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What is Employment Law?

By Katharine Swan
Updated: May 16, 2024

Employment laws are put into place to protect employees from any mistreatment by their employers and are a vital part of a country's efforts to protect its citizens. Most countries have their own version of laws protecting workers, but in general, employment laws address the following concerns: employees being overworked, placed in an unhealthy or dangerous environment, or rendered unable to work without appropriate compensation. In some countries, employment laws also guarantee that workers can't be unfairly discriminated against, and allows foreigners a period of time during which they can legally work in the country. These laws started being put in place shortly after the Industrial Revolution, during which time employees were highly mistreated and lacked legal protection against employers.

Additional Protection

Depending on the country, most employees are greatly protected under some form of an employment law. In many countries, laws have been passed to establish standards that employers must follow in providing benefits, such as health insurance, to their employees; this may include additional coverage for health problems that arise due to conditions of the job or workplace. Employment law may also include protection against discrimination in the workplace based on race, gender, religion, disability, or veteran status, and may make provisions for the employment of foreigners.

In Europe, each country is left to devise its own employment protection system, and each country has slightly different laws. France, for example, has a written Labor Code and other enforceable rights that protect employees from harmful situations, while the United Kingdom has no written labor law, but does hold specialist employment tribunals as part of their court system to help solve any employee's concerns. China requires the majority of the workforce to be under contract with employers, which makes it next to impossible for an employer to fire an employee; this form of employment law states that unless an employee has broken a rule or regulation, the contract must be upheld as stated. Also, to help avoid employees working too many hours, China does not usually have salary-paid employees, but instead generally offers only 40 hour work weeks, with paid over-time when necessary.

Born of Necessity

Before the Industrial Revolution, there was little or no protection for employees. Employers were basically able to treat their employees however they wanted, often paying them wages as low as possible while having them work as long as they were physically able. Working conditions were often downright filthy, if not hazardous to boot, and workers were offered no benefits such as health insurance or worker's compensation in the event of an accident on the job. Before the employment law was put in place, children were part of the workforce and were subjected to employment abuse.

As the Industrial Revolution swept America, Europe, and the rest of what is now known as the industrialized world, more and more people left their rural lives to live in cities and work in factories. Working conditions worsened as the number of employees increased, and it became clear that governments would need to step in to protect the rights of the workers. These initial efforts eventually gave way to modern employment law.

Early employment laws were originally put in place to establish fair wages, to limit the number of hours worked in a week, and to prevent children from being exploited. Rules were also established to regulate the cleanliness of the workplace, and employers were required to take precautions to protect their employees and prevent dangerous accidents. These initial efforts are still an important part of employment law, although they have been improved and expanded as needed over the years.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By anon979892 — On Nov 30, 2014

At what point does a salaried employee have the ability to claim to feel abused and overworked? It's been documented by the manager to have said and written in emails, that " all of corporate America is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week ", and do what you need to do to get this done by tomorrow or else," "I know we won't get any sleep until January, but well get through this together", and when I asked the manager to speak with them because they are in emotional distress, have the manager say they can't talk because they are on a six hour conference call. The manager has readily admitted that the team or the department is too small, but continues to push projects and their own goals without consideration of what it is doing to the team. Is this considerate -- disparaging treatment or abuse as the team should not be feeling pushed or to feel guilty for sleeping, not staying late at work, or for not getting things done when they have already been working excessive hours?

By anon313904 — On Jan 15, 2013

Can anyone explain employment roles in a science workplace?

By Maudanii — On Nov 23, 2012

Can you be sacked by a company if you do not allow them access to your medical records?

My husband's new HR Manager has demanded to see his medical records from his GP. He has had two suspected heart attacks over the last four years: One during work time, while in Scotland and the other in the early hours of a Monday morning. He has been seen by two Company Doctors, one of whom was very rude and my husband ended the session very quickly. the second was more accommodating, but still stated that the company should request access to his medical records.

The company has not explained why they need to have access and as such my husband is reluctant to allow them.

The manager is stating that he has until Monday to consider his decision. He has worked for the company for the last 16 years and never had any problems before this new person came into post. My husband feels that he is being bullied into submission.

By suntan12 — On Jul 14, 2010

Oasis11- I did not know that so many different work permits existed in New York State for minors. In Florida, minors are not issued work papers. Instead they can request a waiver from the law under certain circumstances.

An employer can assist a minor in filling out the waiver and parental consent is not required for a minor to work in Florida. The waiver has to be approved before the minor can begin working or the employer can be fined up to $2,500 per offense.

By oasis11 — On Jul 14, 2010

Great article- I just want to add that according to the New York Department of Labor children age 14 and 15 who would like work can be granted permission by obtaining the Student Non-Factory employment certificate.

Teenagers in this age group are entitled to work with these working papers but are prohibited from working in a factory or operating heavy machinery.

These official work papers are also known as AT-18 which is a blue paper. The AT-19 is a green paper that grants permission for minors from the age of 16 to 17 to work. The AT-19 also prohibits the use of operating heavy machinery or operating a motor vehicle.

The AT-20 is a pink paper that grants minors from the age of 16 to 17 the right to work a full-time job if they are not attending school or have left to pursue full time employment.

There is also the AT-23 and the AT26 that offer children 11 and older the ability to carry and sell newspapers.

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