Employment law encompasses all workplace activities, whether carried out by employers or employees. Employment lawyers come to the aid of employees who have experienced unfair treatment at work, while also assisting employers in preventing such situations and handling various employee-related matters. Unfortunately, employment law issues occur more frequently than one might expect, including cases involving sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and more.
If you are considering a career in employment law, it is important to understand the role of a human resources lawyer in helping employees and companies.
Areas of Human Resources Law
Human resources (HR) lawyers are involved in numerous areas of HR. They deal with a wide range of rules and regulations that ensure workplace safety and regulate employee behavior. When these laws are violated, employees may have legal grounds to file claims against their employers or vice versa. Human resources lawyers play a crucial role in assisting with such cases.
These attorneys work closely with organizations, providing advice on best practices and helping navigate legal requirements when developing policies and making decisions that impact employees.
Discrimination is a major focus of HR law. When employees face adverse treatment based on protected characteristics, such as race, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, age, disability, marital status, or pregnancy, an HR lawyer can intervene to provide relief. Various acts and statutes protect these classes. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating based on race or gender, including sexual harassment.
Employers are also obligated to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. An employment law attorney can assess whether an accommodation request is reasonable.
Family Medical Leave
Employees working for organizations with 50 or more employees have the right to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for medical emergencies, parental leave, or to care for a family member. Retaliation against employees for taking FMLA leave or denying their use of FMLA leave is a violation of the law.
HR lawyers help employers maintain compliance with various workplace laws, including anti-discrimination laws, OSHA guidelines, environmental regulations, and benefits regulations. Failure to comply with these laws can result in severe fines and penalties, making HR attorneys invaluable resources for companies.
Benefits & Compensation
HR attorneys assist employers in developing and documenting benefit and compensation plans, including paid time off, 401k plans, and leave of absence plans. They also handle compensation packages and contract terms for new employees. On the other side, employment lawyers may represent employees who feel their benefits or compensation are being unfairly administered.
HR lawyers play a role in workers’ compensation cases, which involve insurance coverage for employee injuries. Sometimes, the process can be uncooperative, and HR lawyers can assist both the company and the employee. They may investigate potential fraud on behalf of the company or help the employee fight for fair coverage.
Wage & Overtime Standards
There are complex laws and regulations governing employee pay and working hours. HR lawyers ensure employers comply with these regulations, preventing excessive work hours or unfair compensation. They also assist employees who believe they are not being compensated properly for their overtime work.
Contracts & Severance Agreements
When an employee is terminated, the company may offer a severance package. Employees may seek legal advice to ensure fair treatment. HR lawyers may also assist with contract negotiations during the hiring or promotion process.
Whistleblowing & Retaliation
Employees who report wrongdoing or unethical behavior, known as whistleblowers, are protected from termination but may still face retaliation at work. HR lawyers can work to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and pursue compensation on their behalf.
While many states practice at-will employment, where either the employer or employee can end the employment relationship at any time, there are exceptions. Wrongful termination cases, such as discrimination based on a disability, can be brought against companies. HR lawyers may also help companies assert justifiable reasons for terminating an employee.
How HR Lawyers Help Employees
HR lawyers advocate for employees, fighting against unfair treatment and ensuring a safe working environment. They negotiate on behalf of employees and seek compensation. This may include:
- Back Pay/Front Pay: Compensation for lost wages due to unfair compensation, overtime policies, or wrongful termination.
- Punitive Damages: Penalties imposed on wrongdoers to deter future misconduct.
- Emotional Distress: Compensation for mental and emotional suffering caused by a hostile work environment or discrimination.
- Legal Costs: Reimbursement of legal expenses incurred in pursuing a case against the company.
How HR Lawyers Help Companies
Working with companies, HR lawyers have the opportunity to collaborate directly with top executives to implement policy changes that benefit both the company and its employees. They advise on regulation enforcement, ensuring employee protection against harassment and discrimination. HR lawyers also help companies adhere to guidelines set by regulatory bodies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to avoid fines and penalties.
How to Start Working as a Human Resources Lawyer
To become an HR lawyer or employment attorney, you must earn a J.D. degree and specialize in labor and employment law. It is beneficial to intern with an employment law specialist during law school. After graduation and passing the bar exam, you can seek employment in law firms that handle HR law cases for companies or establish your own practice representing employees. Either way, you will make a valuable contribution to the lives, safety, and happiness of many.
Advance your career in HR Law with Garrity Traina
At Garrity Traina, we offer high-quality online law courses. Whether you aspire to become a human resources lawyer or aim to progress in the HR field, start your journey with us. Contact our admissions staff today for assistance with the application process and any inquiries you may have.