Labor laws are in effect before a job even starts, and they help establish and maintain the rights and responsibilities between employers and employees. Federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion, age, gender, or nationality.

"At will" employees can be terminated from employment at any time for any reason, and certain "for cause" employees (e.g., under contract, member of a union) cannot be terminated unless the employer shows "cause" for doing so. "Whistle blowers" who report illegal practices on the part of their employer cannot be terminated for reporting those practices.

How labor laws affect you

Labor laws cover all aspects of employment such as hiring, pay, promotions, reviews, benefits, and employee responsibilities. Some labor laws include:

  • TheOccupational Safety and Health Act establishes standards for safety and health conditions in the workplace.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone with a physical or mental disability.
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act deals with the minimum wage and overtime pay.
  • The Equal Pay Act requires that employees receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender (although pay differences based on seniority or merit are allowed).
  • The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or nationality.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work for employees dealing with family matters such as a new baby or seriously ill family member.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prevents discriminating against someone who is pregnant or who just had a baby.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on age.
  • The Immigration Reform and Control Act prohibits the employment of non-U.S. citizens without proof of their legal right to work in the U.S.

Unfair treatment at work

You may not have given much thought to labor laws unless you lost your job or feel you're being treated unfairly at work. If you've been fired and you think it was in violation of existing labor laws, you may be able to challenge the termination. The process can be costly in terms of both time and money, so you may want to contact an attorney, your state Human Rights Commission, or your state Labor & Industries office for guidance.

If you feel you are being treated unfairly at work because of your gender, age, ethnicity, or for any other reason, you may wish to discuss the issue with your employer first. If you can't talk to your employer or have tried to unsuccessfully, contacting Labor & Industries or an employment/labor lawyer may be your next step. Don't delay in seeking help, as many state laws establish time limits for filing workplace complaints.

Additional resources:

U.S. Department of Labor: Employment Law Guide

U.S. Department of Labor: State Compliance Assistance

U.S. Department of Labor: Summary of Major Laws

Related Legal Guides:

Wrongful Termination Law

National Labor Relations Act