Employment Law - An Overview

Employment law covers the relationships between employers and their current, prospective and former employees. Both federal and state laws control various aspects of the employer-employee relationship, including each side's rights and obligations. Because of the complexity of the employment relationship, this area of law involves issues as diverse as discrimination, record keeping, taxation and workplace safety.

There are also different types of employment relationships. Employment relationships can be based on a contract, or they can be "at-will." If the employment relationship is based on a valid contract entered into by the employer and the employee, the terms of that contract will govern the relationship. By contrast, an at-will employment arrangement can be terminated at any time, with or without reason, by either the employer (as long as the reason does not constitute illegal discrimination) or the employee.

With all these factors to consider, it is clear why employment law is such a complex area. If you have an employment law concern, contact an employment lawyer at Hantzes & Associates in McLean, VA, who can provide advice and representation in a range of workplace-related matters.

Federal Regulations on Employment Relationships

Numerous federal laws apply to employment nationwide. Some laws affect only employers over a certain size, while others have different restrictions. The following is a quick summary of the major federal employment laws:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended:

  • Applies only to employers who, for 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, have employed 15 or more employees
  • Prohibits employers from discriminating because of or on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition) or national origin

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):

  • Applies only to employers who, for 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, have employed 15 or more employees
  • Defines disability with respect to an individual as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment"
  • Defines major life activities to include, but not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, working and major bodily functions such as functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions
  • Is designed to prohibit discrimination against workers with disabilities
  • Provides that if an individual with a disability can perform the essential functions of the job, with reasonable accommodation, that person cannot be discriminated against on the basis of the disability

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA):

  • Applies only to employers who, for 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, have employed 20 or more employees
  • Applies only to employees who are 40 years old or older
  • Prevents employers from giving preferential treatment to younger workers to the exclusion of older workers when it comes to hiring, pay, benefits such as health insurance, job assignments and promotions
  • Does not prevent an employer from favoring older employees over younger employees

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA):

  • Applies to businesses that gross $500,000 or more per year and to other specific types of businesses
  • Provides that qualified employees who work more than 40 hours in a week should receive time-and-a-half pay for the overtime
  • Does not provide regulation as to the number and duration of breaks an employer must allow, but individual states may do so
  • Specifies minimum wage requirements

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA):

  • Applies only to employers who, for 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, have employed 50 or more employees for each working day
  • Applies only to employees who have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours in the year preceding the leave
  • Provides that employers must allow employees to take up to a 12-week unpaid leave of absence during any 12-month period for qualified family and medical reasons
  • Preserves qualified employees' positions for the duration of the leave
  • Employees generally cannot be punished or demoted for taking valid FMLA leave

Employee Rights in the Workplace

All employees have basic rights in the workplace. Those rights include privacy and freedom from illegal discrimination. In addition to federal law, each state has enacted laws to protect the rights of workers. A job applicant also has certain rights even prior to being hired as an employee. Those rights include the right to be free from discrimination based on age, gender, race, national origin or religion during the hiring process.

In most states, employees have a right to privacy in the workplace. This right to privacy can include one's personal possessions, including handbags or briefcases, and storage lockers accessible only by employees. Employees also have a right to privacy in their personal telephone conversations. Employees have very little privacy or right to privacy, however, in their messages on company email and their Internet usage on the employer's computer system.

There are certain pieces of information that an employer may not seek out concerning a potential applicant or an employee. An employer may not conduct a credit or background check of an employee or a prospective employee unless the employer notifies the employee or applicant in writing that it intends to do so and receives authorization to do so.

In addition, most private employers may not require an employee or a prospective employee to submit to a polygraph (lie-detector test). There are very narrow exceptions to this rule if the employee is suspected of being involved in an incident that caused economic loss or injury to the employer or if the employee is being considered to drive an armored car, work for a security company, work with controlled substances or work in national security.

Speak to an Employment Law Attorney

Employees have a variety of rights in the workplace, through both federal and state law. Employers, however, also have rights and protections under the law. It is important for both employers and employees to be aware of their legal rights and the duties they owe to each other. If you are an employee and you feel your rights have been violated by your employer, get in touch with an employment law lawyer at Hantzes & Associates in McLean, VA, to ensure that your rights are protected.

United States Department of Labor (DOL)
Information for workers, employers and unions.

Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
Information regarding enforcement of federal labor laws, including minimum wage; child labor and overtime standards set out under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA).

The Contract Employee's Handbook
This resource contains information to assist independent contractors with management of their careers.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
The NLRB site provides background information on the functions and services of the National Labor Relations Board of interest to employers, employees and policymakers.

Employee Rights
List of rights guaranteed to employees covered under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Case Summaries

Commercial Law

[03/18] Guangdong Wireking Housewares v. US
Judgment of the Court of International Trade holding that a 2012 law passed by Congress to overturn the outcome of a Federal Circuit case, which permitted the imposition of both antidumping and countervailing duties with respect to importers from non-market economy (NME) countries, does not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution, is affirmed, where: 1) the 2012 law applies retroactively; but 2) the 2012 law is not punitive and does not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause.

[03/11] Marvin Furniture v. US
A final decision of the Court of International Trade sustaining a rescission by the Department of Commerce of plaintiff's new shipper review in connection with an antidumping order on wooden bedroom furniture from the People's Republic of China is affirmed, where Commerce's rescission of a new shipper review based on a failure to establish in the initial request for the review the correct date and volume of first entry of subject merchandise is a reasonable interpretation of the statute and its regulations, and a proper exercise of Commerce's regulatory authority.

[03/07] People v. Grewal
In consolidated civil actions under the unfair competition law seeking to enjoin several Internet café businesses from continuing to engage in practices that allegedly violated the gambling prohibitions against unlawful lotteries and unlawful slot machines or devices, the trial court's orders granting preliminary injunctions to the People are affirmed, where the People will likely prevail on the claims that defendants violated prohibitions against slot machines or gambling devices under Penal Code section 330b.

[03/07] Maloy v. Ballori-Lage
Dismissal of plaintiff's complaint alleging that the Puerto Rico Real Estate Examining Board denied plaintiff a license in retaliation for her public criticism of the Board, thereby violating her rights under the First Amendment is vacated and remanded, where plaintiff's allegations plausibly state a claim under 42 U.S.C. section 1983.

[02/25] Voss v. The Netherlands Insurance Company
In a dispute involving plaintiff-insureds coverage for property damage and business interruption losses, summary judgment in favor of defendant-insurance broker is reversed and remanded, where: 1) defendant failed to meet its threshold burden on the special relationship issue; 2) plaintiffs' awareness of the business interruption limits of $75,000 and $30,000 during the relevant policy years does not defeat her cause of action as a matter of law; and 3) questions of proximate cause and foreseeability should generally be resolved by the factfinder.

[02/24] Solus Industrial Innovations v. Superior Court (People)
The trial court erred in overruling defendants' demurrer to two causes of action filed against them by the District Attorney, alleging a right to recover civil penalties under California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL) based on defendants' alleged violation of workplace safety standards, where: 1) California's workplace safety plan, as approved by the Secretary of Labor, does not include any provision for civil enforcement of workplace safety standards by a prosecutor through a cause of action for penalties under the UCL; and 2) under controlling law, any part of a state plan not expressly approved is preempted by federal law.


[03/21] Tattersalls, Ltd. v. DeHaven
The district court properly granted plaintiff's motion to correct the judgment to award it money damages under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(a), where: 1) the district court always intended to award monetary damages; 2) Rule 60(a) allows a court to correct the judgment where there was a "blunder in execution," and thus, 3) the district court's use here of Rule 60(a) was proper.

[03/20] Richman v. Hartley
A Transfer Disclosure Statement is required in any transfer of real property "improved with or consisting of not less than one nor more than four dwelling units," even if the property also has commercial uses.

[03/20] Casas v. Carmax Auto Superstores
In an action alleging wrongful termination against defendant, the trial court's denial of defendant's motion to compel arbitration is reversed, where the modification clause in defendant's Dispute Resolution Rules and Procedures does not invalidate the arbitration agreement.

[03/20] Energy Recovery, Inc. v. Hauge
The district court's decision finding defendant in contempt of its 2001 order adopting the parties' Settlement Agreement that plaintiff would be the sole owner of three U.S. patents and one pending U.S. patent application, is reversed and the injunction is vacated, where none of challenged conduct in developing and selling the pressure exchanger violates any provision of the 2001 Order.

[03/20] Ellis v. U.S. Security Associates
Dismissal of plaintiff's employment discrimination action alleging three claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and two nonstatutory claims is reversed and remanded, where: 1) defendant had a policy that employees agree upon hiring that any claim or lawsuit must be filed no more than six months after the date of the employment action, and waive any statute of limitations to the contrary, which plaintiff signed; 2) plaintiff filed her action after the six month cut-off date in the agreement; but 3) the shortened limitation provision is unreasonable and against public policy.

Corporation & Enterprise Law

[03/14] Deep Woods Holdings, L.L.C. v. Savings Deposit Insurance Fund of the Republic of Turkey
Judgment in favor of plaintiff in a breach of contract action is reversed and remanded, where plaintiff's breach of contract and constructive trust claims are barred because plaintiff's predecessor in interest failed to timely exercise a call option within 45 days of the delivery by defendant of the shares subject to the call option in accordance with a Stipulation entered into by the parties.

[03/04] Lawson v. FMR LLC
The whistleblower protection provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 contained in 18 U. S. C. section 1514A include employees of a public company's private contractors and subcontractors when they report covered forms of fraud.

[02/20] Ramos v. Homeward Residential, Inc.
The trial court properly granted defendant-corporation's motion to set aside the default and default judgment obtained by plaintiff, where the service on defendant-corporation was defective because: 1) plaintiff left a summons and complaint with someone who was in charge of a branch office of defendant-corporation and then mailed defendant-corporation, rather than any individual officer or manager, a copy of the summons and complaint; and thus, 2) did not use any of the methods prescribed in the Code of Civil Procedure for service of process on a corporation.

[02/18] Deutsche Bank AG v. US
The decision of the United States Court of Federal Claims denying plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and holding that plaintiff was not entitled to additional interest on an overpayment of its 1999 income tax is affirmed, where plaintiff's 1999 income tax return was not filed by the extended return filing due date in processible form to commence the accrual of overpayment interest.

[02/13] Reese v. Malone
Dismissal of a complaint under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 by BP shareholders alleging that the company knowingly, or with deliberate recklessness, made false and misleading statements about the condition of Alaskan pipelines and the company's pipeline maintenance and leak detection practices prior to and in the wake of an oil spill, is: 1) affirmed in part, where plaintiffs did not sufficiently allege scienter with respect to a statement regarding BP's "world class corrosion monitoring and leak detection systems"; but 2) reversed in part, where plaintiffs adequately pled falsity and materiality of the other alleged statements, and under a holistic analysis, the plaintiffs' allegations of scienter combined to create a strong inference of BP's deliberate recklessness as to the false or misleading nature of its other alleged public statements.

[02/12] Ball v. Commissioner of IRS
In an action arising out of nine consolidated cases before the United States Tax Court regarding the tax implications of an S Corp.'s election to treat its subsidiary as a "qualified subchapter S subsidiary" (Qsub) under Internal Revenue Code section 1361, the Tax Court's decision finding that the Qsub election and subsequent sale of the S Corp. parent did not create an item of income requiring the parties who held stock in the parent S Corp. to adjust their bases in stock, is affirmed, where the Tax Court properly concluded that: 1) unrecognized gain from a Qsub election does not constitute an item of income; and 2) the increase in stock bases and declared losses were improper.

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