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Global Work Glossary

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Who do labor laws protect?

Who governs labor laws?

How are labor laws enforced and regulated?

What is labor law

Labor law, also known as employment law, is government legislation that governs the responsibilities of employers, the rights of the workers, and the obligations of trade unions.

Every country in the world has established a complex system of labor laws. These laws protect the interests of workers and employers to assure a minimum standard of living and a healthy economy. 

In most jurisdictions, governments enforce labor laws to:

  • Provide workers with fundamental human rights such as minimum wage and parental leave

  • Regulate employment relationships by raising the costs of laying off workers and increasing work hours

  • Empower labor unions to represent workers and enforce workplace regulations

Typical labor laws cover:

  • Employee rights

  • Working conditions

  • Workers’ compensation

  • Workplace safety

  • Occupational health

  • Minimum wage laws

  • Overtime pay

  • Pensions

  • Equal pay

  • Equal employment opportunities

  • Layoffs and terminations

  • Working hours

  • Discrimination law

  • Meal and rest periods

  • Paid time off and accrual

Who do labor laws protect?

Labor laws protect workers differently depending on their worker classification.

There are three main types of classification:

  • Employee: those who have an employment contract

  • Worker: those who have a contract for services

  • Self-employed: owners of a company, freelancers, or contractors

Employees:

Labor laws provide employees with certain rights. Depending on the local jurisdictions, these could include:

  • A right to written terms that outline their job rights and responsibilities

  • The right to sick, holiday, and parental leave pay

  • The right to claim redundancy and unfair dismissal after two years of service

Workes:

Labor law provides workers with slightly different rights; however, many of the same laws apply. These could include:

  • A right to written terms that outline their job rights and responsibilities

  • The right to national minimum wage

  • The right to paid holiday

  • Payslips

  • Protection against unlawful discrimination 

Self-employed:

While protection is not as comprehensive for self-employed, labor law often provides some fundamental protections such as:

  • Protection for their health and safety on a client’s premises

  • Protection against discrimination

Who governs labor laws?

Labor laws are governed by a country’s local government.

In the US, for example, the federal government’s U.S. Department of Labor administers labor law under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA establishes federal minimum wage, overtime pay, eligibility, recordkeeping, and child labor standards. These laws affect full-time and part-time workers in the private and public sectors.

US states are also free to make their own state labor laws as long as they don’t conflict with federal laws.

How are labor laws enforced and regulated?

Each country has different systems in place to enforce and regulate labor laws.

In the UK, for example, labor law is enforced through three main methods: trade unions, the Tribunal and court system, and government agencies. 

The most effective system of enforcement and creation of labor rights is through workers joining trade unions and collectively bargaining.

Trade unions, also known as labor unions, have played a prominent role in enacting a broad range of labor laws and employment practices.

Trade unions are organized groups of workers who engage with employers to solve workplace problems. Governments empower trade unions to represent workers collectively and protect union strategies in negotiations with employers.

A trade union will engage in collective bargaining with employers if a workplace problem arises. Collective bargaining is the process in which working people, through their unions, negotiate contracts with their employers. These negations determine the terms of employment, including pay, benefits, hours, leave, job health, and safety policies.

One worker is unlikely to get his employer to agree on new safety measures or a wage increase. However, numerous workers have a much stronger chance. This is an example of collective bargaining.

Once a trade union and employer reach an agreement, they will sign a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). This legally binding contract outlines the new terms of employment.

The US also relies on trade unions to enact and enforce employment laws and regulations. In 1935 the federal government passed the National Labor Relations Act, which gave private sector employees the right to organize into trade unions to engage in collective bargaining.

The Act also created the National Labor Relations Board. The Board oversees union voting and negotiations in the United States and has the power to prosecute violations.

Other US federal and state laws protecting workers include:

  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act

  • Americans with Disabilities Act

  • Civil Rights Act

Labor law compliance requires large and small businesses to stay up to date on the legal landscape, ensuring their business operations follow the rules. Failure to follow labor laws can result in financial penalties and lawsuits.

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