An employment contract can provide job security and other important protections for employees. However, most employees never sign an employment contract, which means their only protections come from the law. Employment laws, then, provide important protection for employees that otherwise would not have many rights.
At-Will Employment vs. Contract Employment
Sometimes an employee will negotiate and sign an employment contract before ever starting to work for a new employer. The employment contract will typically define the minimum length of the job, the minimum pay and the reasons why the employment may come to an end. Most employees, though, don't sign an employment contract and therefore are simply "at-will" employees, which means they can be fired at the will of the employer.
The Goal to End Discrimination
The law provides important protections against inappropriate forms of discrimination. For example, by virtue of many different federal laws passed over the past 50-plus years, employers in America are now prohibited from discriminating because of age, race, disability, religion, national origin, family status, sexual preference and gender.
What is Discrimination?
Discrimination is difficult to precisely define, but as a general matter it is anything that inappropriately causes adverse results for an employee. For example, discrimination includes refusing to hire a qualified candidate because of the candidate's age. And, discrimination includes firing a qualified employee because the employee belongs to a certain religion or was born in a certain country. Finally, discrimination may include failing to promote a qualified employee because of, say, the fact that the employee is a woman instead of a man.
Fighting for Fair and Equal Pay
The law also provides important employee protections regarding fair and equal pay. First, federal law requires employers to pay a minimum wage. (As of July 24, 2009, the minimum wage is $6.55, and as of July 24, 2010, $7.25.) Additionally, federal law requires that all employees be paid fairly regardless of their gender. This means you cannot be paid less simply because you are a woman, or because you are a man.
Striving for Safety in the Workplace
One of the most important aspects of federal employment law is the requirement that workplaces be safe for employees, even if the employee works in a so-called "dangerous" job position. Workplace safety is regulated by OSHA, which stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA provides minimum safety standards for workplace safety. Without these protections, employees working in, for example, construction, mining or manufacturing would probably face much greater risk of injury on the job.
- Nolo's "Encyclopedia of Everyday Law," Shae Irving, JD & Nolo Editors (7th Ed. 2008)
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