What Is a Labor Lawyer?
Updated : September 29th, 2022
Differences of opinion and philosophy are common in the workplace and often manifest between employers and their teams. When this happens, an entire class of legal experts exists to help both employees and the organizations successfully navigate the situation and attempt to come to a successful agreement without going to court.
Whether you’re an employee in a difficult situation or a leader within an organization, it’s important to understand the types of situations in which it may be helpful to engage with a labor lawyer.
What Does a Labor Lawyer Do?
- Workplace safety
- Workplace harassment
- Collective bargaining agreements
- Wrongful termination
- Wages and hours
- Workplace discrimination
- Document and contract development
- Audits and compliance issues
Employment and labor law represents a complex web of both federal and state regulations designed to protect both workers and employers in many different types of situations. If you find yourself unsure of your rights and obligations in a given situation, or if you just want to protect yourself or your company from legally fraught situations, it can be extremely helpful to hire a labor lawyer.
No matter the size of your business or the industry you’re in, labor laws touch every area of your organization. It’s smart to hire experts who fully understand the law and how it may apply to your particular situation. This is especially true if you are an employee who is a member of a labor union or an employer with unionized workers on your team – in this case, you’d want to work with a specialized labor lawyer.
Do I Need a Labor Lawyer?
Whether you need a labor lawyer ultimately depends on the specifics of your situation. If you are an employer, you may find it helpful to consult with an employment attorney if you anticipate or already have been named in a lawsuit – particularly lawsuits centering on employment matters like employee mistreatment, discrimination, unlawful overtime, hazardous work conditions, or wrongful termination.
A labor lawyer can be helpful if you are preparing to terminate an employee who is a union member or if you anticipate that unionized workers may strike. If you are starting a new business or restructuring, it is wise to consult with a labor lawyer to ensure that you’re establishing equitable and appropriate policies, procedures, and practices from the very start.
If you are a union employee, a labor lawyer can help you if you believe you’ve been terminated without appropriate cause or have been discriminated against. You may need to bring a case against your employer, especially if you have already attempted to report or find resolution for your concerns by going through official channels within your organization.
How Can a Labor Attorney Help Me?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the areas in which a labor lawyer might be helpful to both employees and employers.
The safety of its workers should be an organization’s primary concern – not only because it’s inherently the right thing, but also because an unsafe work environment can lead to accidents and injuries for which the organization is legally liable.
A labor lawyer can help an organization understand its legal obligations to its employees when it comes to safety – and in contrast, an employment lawyer can help workers understand their responsibilities when it comes to abiding by workplace safety guidelines. In cases when these values clash, a labor lawyer may be able to help mediate a successful outcome for both parties while avoiding litigation.
Many state and federal laws exist to help protect workers from workplace harassment, which is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Workplace harassment, by legal definition, constitutes any unwelcome conduct that targets individuals by race, color, religion, or sex – including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy – national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. This includes workplace sexual harassment.
If harassment behavior is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would find it difficult to perform their job duties, the behavior is unlawful. Labor lawyers can advise employers on how to create cultures in which workplace harassment is not tolerated. They can also help employers investigate accusations of harassment against any of their team members. If a team member feels as though they are a victim of workplace harassment, a labor lawyer can advise on whether the current workplace meets the legal threshold for a hostile work environment.
Collective Bargaining Agreements
In many cases, a state’s labor laws specifically govern industries in which labor unions exist – like teaching, bus driving, factory work, police, etc. In these types of situations, an employment lawyer can help both organizations and labor unions negotiate collective bargaining agreements that are good for both workers and the organization.
Through the collective bargaining process, labor lawyers represent workers who have organized into unions in negotiations with organization leadership around employment matters that shape workers’ quality of life – issues like pay, benefits, hours, leave, job health and safety policies, balancing work and family, and more.
The “collective” aspect of the negotiation assumes that an employee labor union is negotiating with the employer on behalf of all union members. It’s important to note that employers must follow specific rules when engaging in negotiations with unions – for example, an employer is only allowed to negotiate with an official union representative.
A good labor lawyer can help guide employers through these types of negotiations to ensure that all applicable state and federal laws around collective bargaining are obeyed.
One of the most unpleasant facets of working within an organization is the chance of being terminated – or for a supervisor, needing to terminate an employee. These situations often are emotional and fraught with different opinions and perspectives regarding the justice of the situation.
Employment lawyers can help by advising on the legal implications of a termination – both for the employee and for the employer. Employment law around termination differs by state, so employers and employees can gain essential knowledge by working with a qualified labor lawyer. In cases where workers have strong evidence of wrongful termination, an employment lawyer can help advise on the feasibility of proving the wrongful termination in court versus settling for damages from the employer.
Wages and Hours
A good labor lawyer can help an employer and a labor union negotiate fair and equitable working hours and associated wages. Having a lawyer help develop policies for wages and hours could head off potential lawsuits further down the road. In cases where workers or union leaders claim that they are not paid appropriately for the hours they work, a lawyer can evaluate the claim and provide counsel about whether the claim is valid.
Similarly, if workers feel they are not being paid appropriately for their work, legal advice from a labor lawyer can help them evaluate whether their claim has legal merit. In cases wage and hours cases, employees may be asked to work without clocking in, or they are working overtime but overtime pay is withheld.
If a situation cannot be remedied through an organization’s existing policies and a solution is not found through mediation, all parties in an employment dispute benefit from being represented by a knowledgeable and qualified employment attorney throughout the litigation process. A labor lawyer may represent an employer against a claim, or they also may represent the employee who brings a workplace-related case against their employer.
Both state and federal labor laws protect employees – and even job applicants – from discriminatory treatment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information – including health care information. Labor lawyers help organizations develop equitable practices, processes, and policies that discourage workplace discrimination and reward equitable treatment of all employees.
In cases where employees believe they have been discriminated against, a qualified employment attorney can review the details of their case and help them determine the best next steps, potentially leading to employment litigation.
Document and Contract Development
A good labor lawyer can help develop workplace policies, severance agreements, non-compete and non-disclosure agreements, freelance, sales or labor contracts, and more. A labor lawyer can help you put in place the right legal documents that protect your organization and your employees.
Clarity of policy and expectations is one of the best ways to guard against potential infractions and disagreements that may lead to litigation in the future. The laws regarding employment records and access to these records vary by state and by organization type, so it’s important to work with someone who understands these variations and can advise you appropriately about your documentation.
Audits and Compliance Issues
Depending on the industry, many organizations are regularly audited for compliance with a wide variety of financial and regulatory expectations. A labor lawyer will systematically and independently review documents, processes, and practices to ensure compliance with state and federal labor laws.
Not only does a legal lawyer offer an outside perspective, but they also work regularly with many different regulatory and financial entities and represent a wide variety of clients. Labor lawyers bring a profound understanding of the overall financial and regulatory landscape that an organization must successfully navigate.
What Is an Employment Lawyer?
Employment lawyers are a broad class of attorneys who provide counsel on legal employment issues arising from the relationship between employers and their employees. They offer insight into various federal and state laws governing workplace practices. You can find employment lawyers in a law firm or government agency, in-house at corporations, and employed by labor unions. Employment lawyers can and do represent both employers and employees – so they understand the rights and obligations of each party involved in a particular issue.
Within the category of employment law, there are additional specialties – such as labor lawyers, employee-rights lawyers, and unemployment lawyers. A labor lawyer focuses on engagement between employers and workers’ unions. An employee-rights lawyer helps ensure that employees are granted equal rights and protections within the workplace. Unemployment lawyers help individuals win their unemployment appeals when benefits initially are denied.
Not all employment lawyers choose to specialize in a particular area, and most employment lawyers can help clients with any of the situations listed above. In addition, lawyers who specialize in Social Security Disability Insurance cases also can help employees who become unable to work because of a disability.
When To Hire a Labor Lawyer
Whether you’re an employer or a team member, connecting with a good labor lawyer is a smart move. For the employer, a reliable and trusted employment attorney can help lay a strong foundation for sound, equitable practices that protect both employees and the organization.
For employees, having a labor attorney can be a tremendous professional resource. Your lawyer can help you understand your rights and obligations as an employee, and protect you from workplace situations that make you uncomfortable.
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