Labor Law

Statutory Framework of Labor Law

The modern statutory framework of the U.S. labor law system developed over a 75-year period. Recent laws have addressed new trends, unlike the earlier labor-management laws that focused on laborers' rights to organize.
In the 75-year period in which U.S. labor laws have developed, a few laws have had the greatest impact.

Labor Law Statutes

1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Established standards for minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping, and child labor across the public and private sectors
1938 Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Formed along with the FLSA; responsible for enforcing federal labor laws
1949 Workers’ Compensation (some version in all states) Insurance that provides wage and medical benefits in case of employee injury during the course of work
1965 Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) Administers, enforces, and investigates workplace discrimination complaints
1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) OSHA's mission is to "assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance"
1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Established minimum standards for private industry pensions

Over a 75-year period, labor laws and statutes have developed, with more focus in the 21st century on employee-manager relationships.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets standards for wages and overtime pay that affect private and public employees. The act, administered by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, requires employers to pay employees who are not considered exempt (nonexempt employees) at least the federal minimum wage pay for each hour worked. Nonexempt employees are those who are hourly wage earners and not salaried. Exempt employees are those who are salaried—they receive a set annual pay not determined by hourly rates. Senior-level managers, for example, are salaried and therefore classified as exempt. The act also requires employers to pay overtime pay of one and a half times the regular rate of pay for nonexempt employees. This act also covers child labor and restricts hours that children (under 16) can work, but it also forbids the employment of children (under 18) in certain dangerous jobs.

Several state and federal laws established the right to workers' compensation. This is funding that people receive if they are injured or disabled on the job. In exchange for the money, the worker agrees not to sue the employer. The U.S. Department of Labor and the states administer the program.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), enacted in 1974, regulates private-industry employers who offer pension plans or health plans for their employees. Title I of ERISA is administered by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), which also administers the reporting requirements for continuation of health-care provisions. These provisions are required under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), which passed in 1985 and allows workers and their families to retain the health benefits they had during employment if laid off, terminated voluntarily, or affected by an hours reduction, though for a limited time and usually at a higher price. This makes it easier for some employees to enter the new "gig economy" after separation.

Not all laws have favored unions. A right-to-work law is a statute that forbids certain types of agreements between unions and employers that are related to requiring employees' union membership or union fee payments. Many Southern and Western states have these laws, including Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.