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A Guide to Common Employment Laws

February 25, 2021

In the 12 months preceding November 2019, over 70 million people were hired and over 75 million separated from their current employer. The need for successful employment is a fact that millions of Americans are facing every single day. There are 180 federal laws that the U.S. Department of Labor enforces pertaining to employment. The laws offer protection and structure for both the employee and the employer to ensure the well-being of all involved.1

The list of common employment laws includes guidelines to aid employers in the hiring process, regulate overtime pay, protect the health and safety of employees and the enforcement of laws against discrimination in the workplace. The laws set out by the Department of Labor have aided in shaping the foundation for the equality of all people under the U.S. economic system. The success of a business relies on them upholding every one of these laws and therefore protecting the rights of every person affected. This article will outline a list of common employment laws for businesses and how they can benefit your business overall.

Wages and Compensation

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulates the required minimum and overtime wage to be paid to employees. Effective July 24, 2009, the FLSA has set the federal amount for minimum wage at $7.25 per hour. Many states have set a different rate for the minimum wage and in that case, the higher amount must be paid.2, 3

Overtime must be paid when an employee works over 40 hours per week. The wage to be paid is at a minimum of one and one-half times their regular pay rate. The starting point of the workweek may be established by the employer but will cover a fixed period of 168 hours over seven consecutive 24-hour periods. There is no limit in the Act to the number of hours an individual over the age of 16 can work in a workweek.4

Hiring and Firing

According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal for an employee to deny hiring a potential employee due to race, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, pregnancy and gender identity), color, national origin, age (40 or older) or disability. If a test is required for the application of a job, it must be directly related and necessary to the job being applied for and not exclude any one person due to the above reasons. If an applicant requires assistance, such as a sign language interpreter, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide such an accommodation.5

If an employer decides to fire an individual for a legitimate reason of misconduct, stealing from the company, falsifying records or violating company policy it is their right to do so. However, there are protections put in place for employees to prevent wrongful termination. One protection is set up through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave of qualifying employees for the birth of a child, to care for the serious health condition of an immediate family member or themselves and the placement of an adopted or fostered child with the employee. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)'s Whistleblower Protection Program covers over 20 whistleblower statutes to protect an employee from being terminated, laid off, demoted or any other retaliation on the part of the employer due to reporting a violation.6,7,8

Discrimination Protection

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits any discrimination in the workplace and against any job applicants. This includes discrimination due to age, race, sex, national origin, color, disability or religion. The EEOC laws apply to all federal agencies as well as any private business, state and local government that employs 15 or more persons. Generally, the employee must have worked for the current employer for at least 20 weeks to be covered by the discrimination laws set out by the EEOC. If they do not qualify under these laws, there are several state and local laws that will protect them from discrimination.9, 10

The Equal Pay Act states that men and women are entitled to equal wages if performing substantially the same work in the same company. This includes salary, overtime, holiday pay, bonuses, allowances and travel expense reimbursements. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects persons over the age of 40 from being discriminated against in being hired, fired, training, job assignments or benefits.11

Labor Laws

Labor laws benefit all parties by providing a guideline that each must adhere to to maintain a safe working environment. OSHA has established an Act to regulate the health and safety conditions of both private and public industries. Employers must provide employees with a safe non-hazardous workplace. Employees then must adhere to these regulations and work safely along with those same guidelines established by OSHA.12

If an injury or illness does occur due to a work-related incident your local Workers Compensation Division will provide specific laws for your state. The Department of Labor’s Workers Compensation Program oversees agencies connected to the Federal government. The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA) provides medical payment for an illness that occurred while working for the Energy Department due to exposure to radiation or other harmful toxins. The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) manages expenses and compensation for Federal employees that have injured or died while performing job-related duties.13, 14


Many laws relate to a certain type of employment and may have additional state-specific laws that must be adhered to. Construction companies must follow the regulations set out by OSHA, The Wage and Hour Division and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Transportation is also under the guidelines set by OSHA and their employees’ rights are protected when Federal funds are involved. The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act sets standards for agricultural employers for housing, transportation safety and wage protections of their employees.15

Be Part of the Solution with an Online Master Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law from Tulane University Law School

This list of common employment laws provides a glimpse into the importance of knowing these laws and adhering to them. If you want to stand out in the field of HR or personnel management, consider how an Online Master Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law from Tulane University Law School can help you differentiate yourself from the competition. The online courses will help you become a clear expert in the labor and employment laws that govern the way businesses interact with their people.


  1. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from bls.gov/news.release/jolts.nr0.htm
  2. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from dol.gov/agencies/whd/minimum-wage
  3. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa
  4. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from dol.gov/agencies/whd/overtime
  5. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from eeoc.gov/prohibited-employment-policiespractices
  6. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla
  7. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla
  8. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from whistleblowers.gov
  9. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from ftc.gov/site-information/no-fear-act/protections-against-discrimination
  10. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from eeoc.gov/coverage
  11. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from eeoc.gov/equal-paycompensation-discrimination
  12. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from osha.gov/laws-regs/oshact/completeoshact
  13. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from dol.gov/agencies/owcp/energy
  14. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from dol.gov/agencies/owcp/dfec
  15. Retrieved on February 11, 2021, from dol.gov/agencies/whd/agriculture/mspa