Understanding Labor Laws


Labor laws were created to keep you from being exploited by your employer. As of writing, there are 180 labor laws in the United States. The laws cover a wide range of topics, including minimum wage, general safety rules and work benefits. There are also several labor laws which relate to unions. Compared to other regulations, labor laws are relatively new. A basic set of rules used to be in place, but these rules were incredibly lax, which led to numerous employees being put in dangerous situations.

There were two primary issues during the Labor Movement, which officially began in the late 1800’s, but did not see many results until the 1900s. Workers felt they were being forced to work in dangerous environments, with their employers providing little in the way of safety. In addition, employers were not paying fair wages. Unions rose up to fight for worker’s rights, which helped for a short period. As time went on, new issues arose with unions. Employers were forced to raise prices to compensate for union demands, leading to inflated prices. A compromise was eventually struck, leading to the creation of a new set of labor laws.

Differences Between Labor and Employment Laws

Employment and labor laws share several similarities, since both relate to the workplace. In some cases, there are even crossover among the laws. Employment laws generally cover a much broader range of workplace related laws. Labor laws are more focused, covering the majority of laws which specifically protect workers. Any type of law regarding unions is more likely to be covered under labor and not employment laws.

Equal Opportunity Labor Laws

Equal opportunity laws represent a set of the most important labor laws in the United States. Equal opportunity laws were first put into place in the 1960’s, as part of the Civil Rights Acts. These laws were later expanded, once shortly after creation in 1967, and again in 1990, as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The overall goal of equal opportunity laws are to keep your employers from discriminating against you.

Under equal opportunity laws, you cannot be punished or treated unfairly at work due to your gender, race, age, religion, disability or orientation. These laws apply not only when you are employed, but also when you are looking for work. In 1990, additional laws were passed requiring employers to make accommodations for employees with disability. This means if you are disabled, employers cannot assign you work which is unsafe because of your condition. You also cannot be punished if you must take off time because of your disability. Employers must also provide special accommodations for disabled employees, such as adding ramps or elevators.

  • Equal Pay Act

Another important labor law was passed in 1963, known as the Equal Pay Act. The Equal Pay Act shares some similarities with equal opportunity laws. The pay act keeps your employers from establishing different pay scales based on gender. The laws take into account how much experience the employees have. For example, employees may be able to get a higher wage due to having additional certification or training.

  • National Labor Relations Act

The National Labor Relations Act, informally known as the Wagner Act, is one of the older labor laws in exist. It is not as relevant in 2020, but it was considered groundbreaking when it was first passed. Before the Wagner Act was passed, employers could take actions against you if you spoke out about dangers in the workplace. In the past, employers used this as an opportunity to fire any employees who complained about unsafe working conditions. A later addition to the law offered additional protection for employees who wanted to join a union. Before the expansion through the Taft-Hartley act in 1947, employers could fire you without repercussion if you even talked about starting or joining a union.

Workplace Safety

There are several labor laws relating to workplace safety. One of the largest and more recent reforms came from the Occupational Safety and Health Act, passed in 1970. This act was introduced to address the growing use of hazardous substances in the workplace, as well as advancements in technology. More complex machinery was being used in factory and industrial setting. While these machines helped advance business, they were also dangerous without proper training or safety procedures in place.

Before the act was passed, it was easier for employers to hide workplace incidents. Employers were not required to keep track of accidents at work, nor were they penalized if an accident did happen. If an employee did get hurt, employers could deny payment by insisting it was the employee’s fault for mishandling equipment. Today, if you are hurt at work due to unsafe practices, you are not only awarded workmen’s compensation, but you can challenge your employer in court. Your employer is also unable to fire or otherwise penalize you for getting injured. Employers must also report all incidents and may be fined or face other penalties depending on the number and severity of accidents.