An Overview on Employment Law

What employees should expect of their employers

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 so they 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.


You might think employment law only applies if you have been fired, but the reality is that there are laws that govern your employment conditions from the beginning until the 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 minimum requirements for wages and overtime hours. The FLSA defines “work” and instructs employers how 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 worked is one of the most common wage and hour violations. 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 normal work day, you likely should be getting paid as well.

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 either covered by OSHA or by 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 and injury or illness and request an OSHA inspection. Your employer cannot retaliate against you for speaking up about your concerns. 


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, national origin, gender or religion. States, counties and cities can pass similar legislation and ordinances, and many have opted to protect more classes of people, including members of the LGBT community and people who have received government benefits.

Employers may not fire, demote or refuse to hire someone based on their membership in a protected class. Additionally, employers cannot take an 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 complaint of discrimination, 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 for 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 HR about harassment or discrimination and then you were fired, you might have a claim for retaliatory termination. The same may 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. What do I do if my employer wants me to do something illegal?
  4. What do I do if my boss doesn’t pay me for work I do off the clock?

Finding the Right attorney for Your Needs

It is important 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.

Why 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 be able to 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.

Why Super Lawyers?

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The patented selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. The objective is to create a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of outstanding attorneys that can be used as a resource for attorneys and consumers searching for legal counsel. As Super Lawyers is intended to be used as an aid in selecting a lawyer, we limit the lawyer ratings to those who can be hired and retained by the public. You can learn more about the selection process here

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