Employment law deals with your rights at your job. It covers hiring, firing, employment contracts, working conditions, wages and overtime; your rights if you work part time, full time, as an independent contractor or tipped employee; or, if you are working for commissions. Employment law also covers all kinds of illegal discrimination, sexual harassment and your safety at work.
Most employees are employees at-will. If you do not have a written work contract, then you are probably an employee “at-will.” As an employee at-will, your boss can fire you at any time, with or without prior notice, for any reason or for no reason at all. The ONLY exception is that your employer cannot fire you for an illegal reason, like race discrimination.
Even if you do not have an employment contract, you still have rights. For example, you have the right NOT to be discriminated against at work because of, for example, your age, disability, race, religion, ethnicity, pregnancy, gender, gender identity or expression and/or sexual orientation. You also have the right not to be sexually harassed, or harassed for any other unlawful reason. There are also other types of unlawful discrimination as the law in this area continues to expand. Therefore, it is important to discuss your situation with an employment lawyer if you feel that you have been mistreated or if you believe your rights may have been violated.
Your employer cannot retaliate against you if you complain about illegal discrimination or other prohibited conduct by your employer. Retaliation can mean getting fired or receiving a pay cut, demotion or any other punishment after you complain of illegal discrimination or other prohibited conduct by your employer. Your employer also cannot retaliate against you for being part of an investigation, legal process or trial about illegal discrimination or other prohibited conduct by your employer. You can recover money and other benefits from your employer for retaliation, even if it turns out that you were wrong about them doing anything illegal in the first place, if there is evidence of retaliation.
In most cases, you also have the right to earn at least minimum wage for every hour that you work and to get overtime pay if you work more than 40 hours per week. If you are paid in tips or commissions, you also have rights as to how you are paid. If your employer is not paying for every hour worked or is not meeting minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, you can file a claim with the labor department or file a civil suit against your employer.
Legal Editor: Daniel S. Braverman, January 2015 (updated June 2020)
Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.