What Is Employment Law?

Employment law deals with the rights and duties of employers and employees. It lays down the terms of the work relationship, such as compensation and holidays, and prohibits discrimination.


For example, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee or job applicant on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older) or disability.

At-Will Employment

Most states in the United States have at-will employment, meaning that employees can be fired for any reason without having to give a notice period. However, there are a few important exceptions to the at-will rule. These exceptions include contracts, statutory rights (such as anti-discrimination laws) and public policy.

In addition, a few states have laws that protect against wrongful termination. For example, New York requires that all oral or written promises of permanent or long-term employment be in writing to create an implied contract. Additionally, Montana allows employers to fire an employee after a six-month probationary period, which transforms the at-will relationship into for-cause employment.

While at-will employment may offer business owners greater flexibility than having a formal contract, it can also lead to costly litigation. For example, an at-will employee can be fired in retaliation for exercising a legal right or refusing to perform an illegal act. While this type of claim can be expensive, there are ways to reduce the risk, such as providing clear and unambiguous disclaimers that policies and procedures do not create contractual employment rights.


Discrimination is unlawful if it is based on a protected status and has the effect of depriving or denying an individual opportunities, benefits, advantages or privileges that are available to others. This includes workplace policies, procedures, requirements and qualifications that may seem objective but are deemed to be discriminatory by the impact they have on individuals, such as when a new attendance management policy has a disproportionate adverse effect on women who have caring responsibilities. It is also illegal to discriminate against an individual in relation to their pregnancy, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, and genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against someone for exercising or assisting in the exercise of an appeal, complaint or grievance right, or cooperating with a discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Federal, state and many local laws protect against discrimination based on race or colour, ethnicity or national origin, religion or belief, age (including seniority), sex, disability or genetic information. These laws apply to employers and people in positions of authority such as managers, supervisors, labour unions and police officers.

Minimum Wage

In addition to federal labor laws, state and local regulations can also impact employment practices. For example, many jurisdictions have minimum wage laws that vary from those of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Those in favor of a national or regional minimum wage argue it is a key tool to promote equality and social progress. They claim it can reduce poverty and inequality by protecting workers from low pay.

However, some business leaders and economists are skeptical of the effectiveness of minimum wage policies. They point to the need for economic growth to offset the cost of higher wages and note that increasing a legal minimum will create winners and losers.

Regardless of the merits of minimum wage policies, implementing these types of policies can be challenging for companies. An experienced Manhattan wage-and-hour lawyer can help employers assess compensation structures and exempt/nonexempt classifications to ensure they comply with the law.


In the United States, holidays are a set of days that the government and some private businesses recognize by closing offices and giving employees paid time off. The federal government requires employers to offer ten holidays off each year, but there is no law that mandates private companies observe these holidays. Private employers may choose to do so, however, as a benefit to their workers or a way to boost morale.

Employers can also establish their own holiday schedules. They are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of religious observance or holiday preference, and they must accommodate requests for time off due to these preferences, unless it would impose undue hardship.

In addition, if two holidays fall within the same pay period and the employee’s normal tour of duty on both days is 8 hours or less, the employer must excuse the employee from the holiday. If the regular tour of duty is more than 8 hours, the employer must allow the employee to work extra hours during other regularly scheduled workdays or to use vacation days, compensatory time off, or credit hour balances in order to meet her biweekly work requirement.

Working Hours

Working hours are a part of employment law that regulates the number of hours employees can work in a day or week. For example, New York labor laws require that employers pay employees overtime for any hour worked over ten hours in a day, including breaks. This includes lunch breaks, which are typically one hour long.

Many people have flexible work schedules that allow them to spend time with family and friends, run errands, or even do some volunteer work. However, it’s important to know your job’s schedule before accepting a new position.

Working hours in industrialized countries are declining, and some governments have set strict limits on the amount of annual leave that an employer can provide. The European Union’s Working Time Directive stipulates that no employee may be forced to work more than 48 hours per week. In addition, EU member states are required to pay workers double-time for any hours worked over that limit. The Working Time Directive applies to all employees, regardless of whether they are full-time or part-time workers.