Employment Law Attorney
Generally speaking, an employment law attorney is an individual who has been educated and trained to handle almost all legal matters that arise between employers and employees. However, the range of employer/employee legal matters is so broad that no one could possibly become an expert in all the different issues that fall under the big umbrella of employment law. This is why employment lawyers often specialize, becoming highly knowledgeable and even an expert in one or more inter-related areas, so that they can better serve their clients. For example, a lawyer may specialize in the field commonly known as whistle blowing. This lawyer uses expertise and skills to assist former or present employees who bring to public attention the illegal or unsafe workplace practices of employers. For example, legal issues may arise if an individual is unfairly fired from his job for "blowing the whistle" on the boss or the company.
A competent employment law attorney may help the person, if the case is legitimate, to receive financial compensation and also help in the effort to change the workplace so that illegal and unsafe practices no longer are taking place and endangering others. On the other side, the company being charged with unsafe or illegal practices will also have lawyers working to protect the company's reputation. A court may decide whether the individual is protected under whistle blowing laws or is a disgruntled person seeking vengeance for a justified firing. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote in an epistle to the early Christians these words: "Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth" James 5:4). These early Christians who were being defrauded of their wages had little recourse. But modern employees can seek legal advice and representation.
In the United States, employer/employee relations are basically governed by both federal and state statutes, government regulations, and court decisions (case law). An employment concept may even be found in a state constitution. For example, Florida's constitution specifically says that Florida is a right-to-work state. Florida state laws and court case decisions cannot contradict this constitutional provision that limits, but does not prohibit, union activities. An employment law attorney may specialize in cases involving right-to-work provisions rather they are in state constitutions or part of state law. Other major state employment issues include unemployment compensation and workers' compensation. Unemployment compensation is a state government program that provides a check to unemployed people who meet certain criteria. Legal issues can arise when a person feels he is entitled to compensation, but the former employer is fighting the approval. Workers' compensation provides monetary relief to individuals who are hurt or injured in the workplace. Here again, several different kinds of legal issues can arise and the injured individual may need to seek the services and expertise of an employment law attorney who specializes in these types of cases. Both unemployment compensation and workers' compensation attorneys have an obligation to their clients to stay updated on new laws and regulations that are passed or created. Workshops or seminars may be held to provide this information to interested professionals.
The federal government has enacted major legislation that affects employer/employee relationships such as the Family Medical Leave Act (FLMA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Both of these pieces of legislation are so huge and far-reaching that an employment law attorney can build an entire practice on becoming an expert in either one. The lawyer may represent clients who believe they have been unfairly treated under the rules and regulations of either the FMLA or the ADA or the lawyer may represent companies who are being sued for possible violations of one or the other of these congressional acts. When acts like these first become federal law, proactive companies may consult with legal experts to ensure that they are in compliance with the new rules and regulations. Additionally, as court case decisions either fine-tune or dramatically change the legislation, legal experts may assist companies in updating employee handbooks and policy and procedure manuals to ensure they stay in compliance. The federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees complaints about such workplace issues as age, gender, religious, or ethnic discrimination. An employment law attorney specializing in these issues may help a client who believes he has been discriminated against to navigate the EEOC complaint process.
The above examples are just a few of the issues confronting employers and employees. Other important topics are benefits and contracts, pension and retirement benefits, salary and wage issues, affirmative action, and sexual harassment. Additionally, an employment law attorney may specialize in alternate dispute resolution (ADR) which includes such alternatives to litigation as arbitration, mediation, and conciliation. These alternate resolutions are less costly than litigation and usually take less time than going through the judicial process. The lawyer, obviously, still needs to be well-informed on the statutes, regulations, and case laws that govern the particular issues so that relevant and wise advice can be given to the client. A present or former employee who feels that she has a grievance against her employer may find that one of the alternatives to litigation actually provides a better overall resolution than going to court. Before seeking legal assistance, a potential client may want to conduct internet research on the specific topic to become better informed on the statutes, regulations, and case law that may impact the particular circumstances. Many employment law websites provide helpful information, including resources, relevant links, and perhaps even a directory so that the website visitor can locate an employment law attorney in her area that specializes in her specific issue. The employer/employee relation should be a positive one. But when it isn't, both employers and employees have recourse to seek legal advice and representation from attorneys who specialize in employment issues.
Labor Law AttorneyThe man dialed an employment law attorney after being unceremoniously fired by the owner of the franchise where he worked. The former employee had broken an ankle and was out of work three months because of its severity, and upon return was told that he could only work on a part time basis because he would be in a wheelchair for another eight weeks. Not only would the employee only be working part time, but he was also stripped of his salary and moved to an hourly wage. The former employee had called several other legal practitioners, but none had the answers for the particular set of questions he asked. The man then knew that the need for an employment law attorney was nonnegotiable. "Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies." (Psalm 27:11)
The former employee at the beginning of this blog had the mistaken impression that any attorney around the corner can handle the complicated world of business labor and employment statutes until he began to consider just some of the issues that these specialized barristers must face on an everyday basis. Issues such as, electronic privacy in the workplace, the use of lie detectors in the workplace, drug testing, unjust firings, child work regulations, the Family Medical and Leave Act, federal wage and hour regulations, workers compensation, issues pertaining to OSHA, and sexual harassment suits are just some of the areas that these law practitioners need familiarity. In short, employee regulations are really about everything regarding the relationship between employee and employer. Some of the very large legal firms around the country may have barristers practicing in just a few of these areas so that expertise can be established.
The terms labor law attorney or an employment law attorney are terms that can be used interchangeably in most cases. However, a labor attorney practices in an area that many an employment law attorney cannot, and that is with dealings with labor unions. Labor regulations are fashioned to try and stem the inequity caused by the leverage many employers have over their employees. The term collective labor law deals with the three part relationship between employee, employer and union interests. A collective bargaining agreement is brought on by a relationship formed by all three of these entities. A labor law attorney will be at the heart of these kinds of agreements that are hammered out by much negotiation.
While a labor law attorney may be qualified to work on a case that is simply between an employer and an employee, the employee law attorney will probably not be equipped to handle high stakes negotiations and legal matters with labor unions. A labor attorney will be involved in high profile issues that often get a great deal of attention, such as the ongoing fight for safety to be a top priority in underground mines. The civil rights of groups of employees, whether unionized or not, will be addressed by a labor law attorney interested in the constitutional rights of particular employees, such as seasonal farm workers or asbestos removal workers. Protecting accused workers of violating certain federal statutes such as the Davis-Bacon Act or the Copeland Act would be the bailiwick of this type of legal practitioner. Also included would be the Fair Standards Act which mitigates issues among far workers and their employers.
One of the issues that can often face an employment statute attorney is the interpretation of certain employee regulations. The man at the beginning of this blog sat at lunch one day and discussed all the aspects of the recent firing with one such barrister. At the end of the meal, the lawyer suggested that the man file a complaint with the State Bureau of Employee Relations, laying out all of the details of the circumstances surrounding the issue. The law attorney stated that there was no way that the employer could change a workers' status from exempt to non-exempt without being guilty of workplace prejudice. However, to the man's dismay, the state denied any wrong doing had been done and dismissed the complaint as having no grounds for continuance. The regulations surrounding the complicated world of labor and employee statutes are complicated and often times subjective in nature, leaving open a number of differing interpretations.
The Wagner Act and its violations, have kept labor law attorneys busy for decades. Also known as the National Labor Relations Act, this statute has sought to protect union workers from such things as firings because of union activities, wage cuts or job demotions because of union activities. The Act even protects against employers spying on unions. Additionally, barring workers from working because of union unrest, acts of force and threats against union members are all part of the legacy of labor attorneys Despite what some may think, these occurrences still happen in the twenty first century, but not to the extent of by-gone eras. The freedom from harassment and poor working conditions that many younger workers enjoy today is the result of dedicated legal practitioners plying their trade in decades past.
Knowing that it might be a titanic struggle between himself and the franchise owner, the man gave up his cause for fair treatment. The cost of hiring an employment law attorney would outweigh any gains made from winning the complaint. Sometimes knowing when to quit is a good thing. The man found other work right away and is much happier now. And so the planet revolves.