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Employment legislation encompasses the collection of laws and regulations that govern the rights and duties between employers and employees. It's designed to ensure fair treatment in the workplace, covering a myriad of aspects such as minimum wage, working hours, health and safety, and anti-discrimination measures. For instance, in the United States, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets basic minimum wage and overtime pay standards, affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments.
These laws are not static; they evolve with societal changes and economic demands. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2020, 76% of private industry workers had access to paid sick leave. This reflects a growing trend in employment legislation focusing on work-life balance and employee well-being. By understanding employment legislation, both employers and employees can better navigate their rights and responsibilities, creating a more harmonious and productive work environment.
Employment legislation refers to a body of laws that regulate the relationships between employers and employees. While the bulk of these laws are generally designed to protect workers, there are also some regulations that are imposed upon workers. Issues that are addressed by employment laws include discrimination, legal working ages, and safe working conditions. Violations of employment laws are usually civil matters, which are handled in civil courts or through administrative procedures.
Without regulations, numerous problems and conflicts could arise in an employer-employee relationship. Generally, workers bear the most risk of being treated unjustly, unfairly, or inhumanely. To prevent this from happening, in many societies there are laws that dictate the essential elements of the employment relationship. This includes issues such as minimum wages, safe working conditions, and discrimination.
The prevalence of employment legislation is due in large part to incidents in the past. There is a substantial amount of history recorded that details the manner in which employees have been mistreated over time. Unfortunately, due to the lack of employment legislation or the inability to enforce it, adverse conditions still exist in the present in some places.
Employment legislation is not consistent globally. The rights and regulations imposed on employers and employees in one place may drastically differ from those that are applicable in another place. In some instances, these laws allow people to be treated differently even within one jurisdiction. For example, in some states in the U.S., employees are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits only if their employers have more than a specified number of workers on the payroll.
Governments recognize that, in some cases, employers can be victims if preventative steps are not taken. For example, if there were not regulations regarding how injured employees handle their cases, there exists a great deal of likelihood that many would attempt to abuse the workers’ compensation system. As such, there are usually rules that determine how long a person has to report an injury and the circumstances, such as intoxication, that prevent him from receiving benefits.
Violations of employment legislation are generally civil. They are often handled by specific agencies that bear the responsibility of enforcing certain areas of the law or by civil courts. In most cases, there is no threat of punishments, such as probation or incarceration for breaking these laws.
Usually, the guilty party is punished by way of economic damages or with orders that prohibit or require her to act in a certain way. This is not always the case, however. Sometimes the violations are so gross or negligent that a court will impose harsh consequences on the guilty party.
Why Does Employment Legislation Exist?
The idea that all employees are treated fairly and respectfully is a natural extension of equality. Employment laws develop based on need as society changes. Employment legislation does everything from ensuring fair pay to protecting from enforced child labor, and there are additional hidden benefits. For instance, establishing a federal minimum wage adjusts and balances our overall economy.
Before labor laws, employees frequently worked extra hours without extra compensation. Then, laws established a 40 hour work week and required companies to pay overtime. These laws have also benefited employers, increasing overall health and job satisfaction and employee retention.
While most employment laws are written to primarily protect the worker, they also equalize competition for hiring employees between companies. A clear and attractive benefits package draws workers and defines company responsibility. Employment laws also streamline the hiring process by setting concise legal expectations between company and employee.
They stabilize the relationship between employer and employee and set a standard that every worker can expect in any job. In addition, as laws have addressed workplace safety, discrimination, and equal pay, there has been a substantial increase in employee satisfaction, resulting in increased productivity.
Employment laws focus companies on a worker's ability to perform a particular job required regardless of race, religion, sex, or other factors.
How Has Federal Legislation Affected the Benefits Employees Receive?
Several main pieces of federal legislation govern employee benefits. The goal is fairness toward employees and reconciliation of benefits with taxable income:
- The 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act began administering employee benefits programs like pension, disability, life, and medical insurance. Therefore, the company must provide a clear description of benefits to employees.
- 1985 brought the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. COBRA empowers employees who lose health benefits with the right to choose the continuation of benefits in a group plan. However, this lasts for a limited period and may require the employee to cover the total cost.
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provides stability for self-employed workers who change jobs or have pre-existing conditions. The goal is for continuous health care coverage.
- The Older Workers Benefits Protection Act came about in 1990. This law resulted in older employees absorbing more of the cost of health care, life insurance, or disability.
- The Pension Protection Act strengthens company-sponsored retirement plan protections for employees. The law requires private sector businesses that have defined but under-funded benefits plans to pay higher premiums. This helps ensure retirement benefits.
- The Patient Protection Affordable Care Act is based on the idea that if more people have health care, it will reduce the cost per insured. It attempts to regulate insurance companies to provide better coverage and low-cost plans.
Company benefits can be considered wages, and employees can be taxed accordingly. However, if it is health insurance, the employer contribution is not a wage and not taxable.
How Does Employment Legislation Affect a Business?
Employment legislation protects individual persons, and most businesses must follow these laws. They are enforced by several federal agencies, including The Department of Labor, The National Labor Relations Board, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Employers must apply these laws in the same manner to all employees.
More than 20 federal laws regulate the relationship between company and employee, and understanding them can be perplexing. Also, there are state and local laws. However, there are a few crucial laws with which every business owner should be familiar:
- The Fair Labor Standards Act governs employee pay and sets minimum wage and overtime. However, some states or cities may require higher wages than the federal minimum. In addition, the FLSA regulates work performed by people under 18 years of age.
- Occupational Safety and Health Act certifies workplaces are safe and free from perils likely to cause injury or death. Employers must report accidents that result in hospitalization or death. Additionally, employers must post information in the workplace about employee rights.
- The Equal Pay Act protects both men and women from wage discrimination based on sex. However, workers can receive higher wages based on seniority, merit, quality of work, or consideration other than sex.
- The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 holds employers responsible for verifying that workers can legally be employed in the U.S. In addition, it restricts employers from discriminating based on citizenship status or national origin.
- The National Labor Relations Act defends employees' right to organize into unions. The NLRA prohibits threats against unionized employees and establishes ways of deciding which union represents the workers.
Why Does Employment Legislation Exist?
Employment legislation exists for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, employment legislation exists to ensure the balance between employers and employees is fair and equal. Employment legislation exists to ensure the wellbeing of both businesses and employees by giving businesses the right to operate freely as long as they do not discriminate against employees and engage in fair behavior. There is legislation at local, state, and federal levels that protect both employees and employers.
Current employment legislation gives employers the freedom to hire and fire employees at will. Conversely, employees, once hired by a company or individual, have certain rights that must be honored. Without the regulations outlined by employment legislation, countless issues and conflicts could arise. In many cases, employees would be at great risk of being treated inhumanely and unjustly. To prevent such cases from arising, societies must take the necessary steps to draft laws that provide workers with basic rights and protection.
What Issues Are Covered in the Employment Standards Legislation?
The Employment Standards legislation addresses issues such as employment discrimination, safe working environments, compensation, and legal working ages. Employers must adhere to such legislation or they risk being held accountable by various agencies and the legal system. The following types of laws exist to protect employees:
- Anti-Discrimination Laws: Such laws prevent discrimination against certain protected classes of individuals. Currently, it is illegal to discriminate against employees based on gender, race, nationality, religion, disability, age, and in many places, sexual preference. Anti-discrimination laws also protect whistleblowers and some individuals who choose to join unions.
- Wage Laws: The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) establishes the federal minimum wage and outlines regulations regarding overtime pay. Similar laws set forth family leave policies and restrict child labor.
- Workplace Safety Laws: The foremost workplace safety law is the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). OSHA establishes guidelines for keeping employees safe in a variety of work environments. There are also similar laws that set safety guidelines for particular industries.
- Tax, Payroll, and Finance Laws: There are numerous federal guidelines regarding payroll management. Employers must also adhere to federal tax laws that govern the handling of payroll taxes, Medicare withholding, and Social Security, as well as employee pensions.
How Does Employment Legislation Prevent Discrimination?
Employment legislation exists to ensure employees are not subjected to discrimination of any type. Workplace discrimination comes in a myriad of forms, but often, it is as simple as refusing to hire someone because of their race or ethnicity. Discrimination against others based on age, sexual orientation, religion, and gender are is also problematic. Employees can also be discriminated against and wrongfully terminated after suffering an injury in the workplace or taking maternity leave. Current employment legislation prohibits discrimination in virtually every form.
In addition to discrimination, harassment is also illegal. If an employee feels they have been discriminated against or harassed in the workplace, they do have the option of taking legal action against their employer. State, local, and federal agencies are also in place to prevent discrimination and harassment.
What Happens if Employers Violate Employment Legislation?
Employment legislation violations are typically considered civil manners. They are overseen by specific agencies that are responsible for enforcing certain laws and ensuring they are honored by civil courts. For this reason, there is typically no threat of punishments such as imprisonment or probation.
When a person or organization is found guilty of violating employment laws, they are usually punished in the form of having to repay economic damages. The person or organization may also be required to behave in a certain manner by the court. Individuals or organizations that behave in a grossly negligent manner face harsher penalties.
What Are the Practical Benefits of Employment Legislation?
Employment legislation has a positive impact on society as a whole. Employees are provided with protections in regards to hourly wages, safety, fairness, and payroll. The laws also exist to educate employees about their responsibilities and rights. If an employee feels their rights are being violated by an employer, there are numerous agencies available to assist them accordingly.
Employment legislation also benefits employers. Employers are given the right to hire and dismiss employees at will. As long as employees are not fired for discriminatory reasons, employment is generally considered “at will.”
Having employment legislation in place creates a more human and just society for everyone. Such legislation is necessary to prevent child labor, eradicate diseases and injuries, and provide employees with fair treatment.
Is Employment Legislation Uniform?
No, employment legislation is not uniform. There are certain laws that must be honored by every state, but states and localities have some leeway in establishing or modifying employment laws. Laws present in some states may not be present in others.