Labor Law Vs. Employment Law

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Labor law typically deals with union issues.
Labor law typically deals with union issues. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

While the terms "labor law" and "employment law" are sometimes used interchangeably, and law firms frequently specialize in both areas, these terms are in fact typically used to describe two separate and mostly distinct areas of the law. Labor law deals generally with unions, collective bargaining, and other issues relating to organized labor. Employment law covers all legal issues relating to the employer-employee relationship, including hours, wages and workplace requirements.

Labor Law Summary

Labor laws deal with the relationships and responsibilities between businesses and unions. In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act instituted the National Labor Relations Board, which continues today as the administrative body that regulates labor issues. Labor issues that frequently arise include collective bargaining rights, various issues arising from union contracts, matters relating to a labor strike, and disputes concerning whether and when a union can be organized.

Trends in Labor Law

Labor law has undergone significant changes from its beginning as a government response to frequent workplace injustices. Today, labor laws have grown significantly more complex, with various federal and state agencies regulating all types of labor issues and complaints. While the practice of labor law has declined as it relates to corporations (which have seen their union membership decrease significantly), public unions have continued to grow larger and more powerful, resulting in more legal battles.

Employment Law Summary

Employment law covers the myriad laws that regulate the workplace and the relationship between employers and employees. Some of these issues concern wages and hours, such as minimum wage laws and the duty for employers to pay higher wage rates for overtime work. Other employment law issues deal with workplace regulations, including those governing workplace hazards, harassment and discrimination. Yet another branch of employment law covers mandatory and voluntary leave, such as maternity leave and disability leave. Today there are hundreds of employment laws covering all facets of the workplace.

Trends in Employment Law

Employment law has grown increasingly broad and complex as the government has become more involved in the relationship between employers and their employees. While at its beginning employment law dealt with pressing national issues such as establishing a minimum wage and ensuring that dangerous work environments were properly regulated, today employment lawyers find themselves arguing how workers are classified for pay purposes, when they have been fired unjustly, and whether they have been the victims of illegal harassment or discrimination.

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