What is Employment Law for Employees?

What employees should expect of their employers

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 31, 2023

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Employment law is designed to protect employees in every stage of the workplace relationship—from the application process until the end of employment. The federal government has passed regulations that serve as the baseline of acceptable conduct by employers and employees, and your state has likely passed additional protections.

Even the most careful employer can violate laws. It is beneficial for employees to know what to expect from their employer to know when to discuss a problem with human resources. If there is no internal solution, employees might consider pursuing legal action. The following is designed to help you understand what the federal government requires of employers so you can evaluate whether to pursue legal action.

Employment Law for Employees – What You Need To Know

  • State and federal government agencies are in place to ensure that employment rights are enforced for all U.S. citizens.
  • The federal government has passed regulations governing wages, overtime, workplace health and safety, discrimination, and termination.
  • Most states have passed similar regulations that often add more protections.


You might think employment and labor laws only apply if you have been fired, but the reality is that these laws govern the employer-employee relationship from beginning to end. The federal government has passed regulations governing wages, overtime, workplace health and safety, discrimination, and termination. Most states have passed similar regulations that often add more protections.

Wage and Hour

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that sets federal minimum wage requirements and overtime pay. The FLSA defines “work” and instructs employers to count work hours. States are free to set their own standards, but they cannot offer less than the FLSA requires.

Failing to count hours of work is one of the most common violations of employee rights. If your employer allows you to work beyond your scheduled hours and it benefits your employer, then that time is counted toward your hours worked. If you work “off the clock” before or after your regular workday, you should be getting paid.

Additional federal laws govern wages. For example, the Equal Pay Act requires employers to pay men and women equally for equal work, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or for the serious illness of the employee or close family member. Many of the federal statutes governing employment and workplace activities are administered and enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Workplace Safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) gives you the right to a safe workplace free of known health and safety hazards. Private-sector workers in every state are covered by OSHA or an OSHA-approved state plan.

Under OSHA, you have the right to be trained in a language you understand, be provided with required safety gear and equipment, report an injury or illness, and request an OSHA inspection. Your employer cannot retaliate against you for speaking up about your concerns.


Several federal laws protect employees from discrimination in the workplace. Most notably, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of their age. States, counties, and cities have passed their own anti-discrimination legislation and ordinances.

Employers may not fire, demote or refuse to hire someone based on their membership in a protected class. Additionally, employers cannot take adverse employment action against someone for complaining about discrimination in the workplace.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal anti-discrimination laws, and your state likely has an agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws. If you choose to file a discrimination claim against your employer, you will most likely file with both the EEOC and your state’s agency.

Wrongful Termination

Most states are “at-will” employment states, which means you can be fired at any time for any reason or no reason. There are, however, some exceptions to this general rule:


Your employer cannot fire you for an illegal reason, which means you cannot be fired for a discriminatory or retaliatory reason. If you spoke to human resources about harassment or discrimination and then were fired, you might have a claim for retaliatory termination. The same might be true if you were fired for taking medical leave, sitting on a jury, or taking time off to vote.

Employment Contract

Sometimes your employment contract can override the presumption that your employment is at-will. If the employment contract or employee handbook sets out a procedure for discipline and termination, courts will generally expect employers to follow through with those procedures.

Common Questions

Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney for the first time.

  1. What do I do if my employer won’t accommodate my disability?
  2. How do I prove I didn’t get a job because of discrimination?
  3. Do job applicants have to disclose their sexual orientation?
  4. What should I do if I am in an unsafe work environment?
  5. What do I do if my employer wants me to do something illegal?
  6. What do I do if my boss doesn’t pay me for work I do off the clock?
  7. What if my employer and health care provider refuse to file a workers’ compensation claim on my behalf?
  8. Are there any state laws that conflict with federal statutes?
  9. How can I act as a whistleblower if I witness unsafe working conditions?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is crucial to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who represents employees in employment law cases.

Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

An employment lawyer can review your employment contract, employee handbook, and timesheets to help you determine whether there has been a violation. A lawyer can help you resolve the issue with your employer directly. If you decide to pursue legal action, your lawyer can help you determine what agency should handle your case.

A lawyer will anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them. Your lawyer will also keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies, giving you one less thing to worry about.

What do I do next?

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