U.S. Labor Law: Peculiarities of Protection of Employees’ Rights


The sources of labor law in the USA are written law (federal and state laws) and case law (case or common law). An important source of labor law are the acts of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has repeatedly ruled on disputes over unlawful dismissal of employees, stating that various forms of harassment and discrimination, which served as the actual reason for the dismissal, violate the U.S. Civil Rights Act (Civil Rights Act) of 1964.

The range of case law applicable to labor disputes includes

  • the concept and essence of a labor contract of mutual agreement (agreement at-will);
  • Determination of jurisdiction over labor disputes (jurisdiction);
  • punitive damages recoverable from defendant employers in favor of plaintiff employees and the determination of the amount of such damages;
  • class actions by employees against their employer;
  • attorney’s fees in the event of a successful claim (“success fee”).

One of the fundamental pieces of U.S. labor law is the National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Senator Robert Wagner Act (Wagner Act). The Act was signed by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and enacted on July 6, 1935. It guarantees the right of private sector employees to form unions, bargain collectively, and enshrines the right to strike. It also prohibits any form of harassment and discrimination against workers for joining or already being members of a labor union.

There are about 200 federal laws in the U.S. labor law system. Similar laws are usually adopted by state legislatures. Of course, state laws should not contradict federal laws, but each state has the right to establish additional measures to protect the rights of employees and more stringent requirements for employers in relation to those established by federal laws. This is a general principle of the correlation of laws aimed at protecting private and public interests.

Specifically, the federal Civil Rights Act makes it unlawful to discharge an employee if the reasons include race, ethnicity, color, nationality, or country of birth or former residence of the person discharged, as well as sex, pregnancy, disability, age, or religion. California state law (Unruh Civil Rights Asst 1959) provides a broader list of grounds for declaring layoffs unlawful. In addition to the grounds contained in federal law, it establishes that it is also unlawful to terminate employment because of marital status, medical condition (unless, of course, the employee is found to be totally disabled for a particular job), citizenship, ancestry, genetic information, native language, immigrant status, etc.

Based on this, lawyers representing the interests of the employee determine the line of defense of his rights in a dispute with the employer. Thus, the above list of grounds on which the dismissal is recognized as unlawful, in the legislation of the state of California compared to the federal legislation is wider. Accordingly, attorneys rely on the provisions of California law.

Labor contract

A labor contract (agreement) under American law is an agreement between an employee and an employer. It contains a number of terms and conditions: rights and obligations of the employee and the employer, wages, working hours, overtime, vacation time, benefits, and other items agreed upon by the parties. An employment contract is concluded in writing: each company develops its own form of the contract or chooses from the forms used or recommended by others.

A labor contract signed by the parties is not the only form of its conclusion. It is widely used, especially in small companies, to hire a person by means of an offer in any form: by phone, in the form of a letter sent by mail, e-mail notification, etc. that the person may start work from a certain date on the terms and conditions agreed upon at the interview or specified in the offer. If the person hired agrees, an order is issued, also signifying the conclusion of the contract in writing.

Along with position and salary, the benefits provided by the company are of paramount importance for newly hired employees. They include, first of all, medical insurance, bonuses, bonuses and other forms of remuneration, life insurance, increased vacation time for long-time employees, travel arrangements (duration, payment of travel expenses), and so on. Many companies also offer employees such benefits as legal assistance, discounts on lunch and parking during working hours, payment for public transportation, kindergartens, cultural and educational activities, etc. When dismissing conscientious and long-term employees, large companies pay a cash bonus in addition to severance pay.

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