What is Employment Law for Employers?

Common considerations in the employment relationship

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

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The employer-employee relationship is governed by state and federal laws to prevent discrimination and create safe working environments free of harassment. If you are an employer, you will want to make sure you understand employment and labor laws so you can follow them long before there is a complaint.

The following is an overview of common considerations in the employment relationship; however, it is not exhaustive, so it could be beneficial for you to speak with a lawyer.

What You Need To Know

  • It is the employer’s responsibility to comply with employee and labor laws during the employment relationship with their employees.
  • Discrimination laws prohibit you from making decisions based on candidates’ memberships in protected classes.
  • State and federal governments also have laws around how you should compensate employees.
  • Employers are automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action.
  • Employers must maintain workplace safety for their employees.

An Overview of Employment Law for Employers

As a small business owner and employer, it is your responsibility to comply with employee and labor laws during your employment relationship with your employees. These legal responsibilities created by employee rights begin during recruitment activities and continue through the end of your employment relationship.

Hiring Practices

When you hire employees, there are discrimination laws that prohibit you from making decisions based on candidates’ memberships in protected classes. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, these classes include race, color, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, and religion.

These protections under federal statute don’t necessarily mean you are required to hire someone because they are a member of a protected class. Instead, it means that your reason for passing on them cannot be that they belong to a protected class. If you are unsure whether you are rejecting candidates for legal reasons, you may find it helpful to reach out to a lawyer. The federal classes are a baseline, so your state may offer protections to more groups of people.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency assigned to enforce these regulatory laws nationally. Other regulatory considerations include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensures opportunities for disabled members of society, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prevents ageism in hiring practices. In addition to this large body of federal rules, you probably aren’t surprised to find out that state laws also regulate this space. So, it helps to speak to someone with both federal and state law expertise.


The federal government creates laws about compensating your employees. But take note, there are also state laws about how often you must pay your employees. You are required to compensate your employees for all the time they spend doing activities that benefit you or your company. And while there are special rules about travel time and time spent waiting, the general rule is that you should compensate your employees for all hours worked—even if they were not technically on the clock.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides oversight on federal minimum wage, overtime pay, and stringent standards for child labor and employment. Additionally, the Equal Pay Act requires employers to pay men and women equally for equal work. Learn more about minimum wage and hour laws.

Preventing Harassment

Employers are automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action. Negative employment actions include termination, failure to hire, and loss of wages. If one employee is harassing another, you can avoid liability by proving that you reasonably tried to prevent harassment and that your employee failed to take advantage of any corrective opportunities you provided.

It is a good idea for employers to set up systems to prevent harassment and create environments where employees feel free to come forward with complaints of harassment. Doing so may not prevent harassment altogether, but it will also help your case should an employee file a lawsuit because of another employee’s harassment.

Occupational Safety

Employers must maintain workplace safety for their employees. Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to regulate safe and healthy working conditions beginning with training and throughout employment. To that effect, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enforce these regulations. The Department of Labor oversees OSHA.

Even when maintaining occupational safety, accidents can still happen. If an employee is injured, they may also qualify for benefits through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It’s best to speak with a lawyer versed in both FMLA and workers’ compensation policy.

Ending the Employment Relationship

As a private sector employer, you are likely employing people at-will. This means that you or they can end the relationship for any—or no—reason as long as it is not against the law. This means you cannot fire someone based on their membership in a federally or state-protected class. You also cannot fire employees as retaliation for whistleblowing, complaining about unlawful practices in the workplace, or participating in an investigation.

Cases alleging wrongful termination will often require you to prove that the employee was at-will, meaning you didn’t need good cause to fire them. Before you are involved in a lawsuit, you may want to review the materials you provide to your employees to ensure they do not inadvertently create an employment relationship you did not intend to create.

Courts will generally hold employers to statements in employee handbooks, including statements such as ’employees can only be fired for cause or according to a discipline plan.’ If you make these kinds of statements in your human resources handbooks, you should intend to follow them.

Common Questions for an Attorney

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

  1. Under state and federal employment laws, what are my responsibilities to my employees?
  2. Am I required to provide overtime benefits or employee pay?
  3. Does the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) apply to me?
  4. What questions can I ask in interviews?
  5. What should I do if my employee is being harassed?
  6. What are some requisite conditions of typical employment contracts?
  7. Do I have to provide advance notice of layoffs?
  8. What are my obligations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in providing employee benefits?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is essential 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 practices employment law and has experience representing employers.

Why Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

It can be beneficial to talk to a lawyer before a complaint or lawsuit has reached your desk so that you can ensure your employment practices are legally proper. A lawyer can help you draft job applications and develop hiring protocols, and they can help you create plans to prevent harassment in the workplace.

When an employee has complained or filed a lawsuit, your lawyer can help you review the case and develop your defense. This can include interviewing the complaining employee and other employees with knowledge of the incident. A lawyer will further be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them, as well as 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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