Google’s Most Asked Questions about Employment Law, Part 1

Jul 30 2020

What is employment law?

Generally speaking, “employment law” is the constellation of constitutions, statutes, regulations, and legal cases that governs the relationship between individual employees and their employers.  If you work for a living, you have a right to be free from discrimination and retaliation, to have your contracts honored, and to be paid for every hour you work (and more if you are entitled to overtime).  These rights derive from “employment law” and are generally vindicated in court (or in an administrative agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO)).

Most lawyers distinguish “employment law” from the related area of “labor law,” which generally involves the relationship between businesses and labor unions (or groups of employees who are trying to form unions).  For more on the difference between the two areas, see here.

Why do we have employment law?

Employment law is an expression of our collective priorities.  We have laws prohibiting discrimination because we want employees and job applicants to be evaluated on their merits, not their identities.  We have laws protecting whistleblowers because we recognize the social value in bringing illegal and unethical conduct to light.  And we have wage and hour laws (like a minimum wage) because we believe that everyone deserves to be paid fairly for their work.

What laws protect employees from sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is an umbrella term to describe a number of different employment practices that are wrong and illegal.  These practices can include unwanted or unwelcome sexual advances, either by a boss or a coworker, or any sort of statement or action that negatively affects an individual’s ability to thrive at work.

Sexual harassment is illegal under both Connecticut and federal law.  The Connecticut Fair Employment Practices includes a specific provision – § 46a-60(b)(8) of the Connecticut General Statutes – that defines and prohibits sexual harassment.  In contrast, the federal law that prohibits employment discrimination – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – does not mention sexual harassment; however, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in 1986 that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, which is illegal under Title VII.

What laws protect employees from job discrimination?

There are a variety of laws that protect employees from discrimination in connection with their work.  On the federal level, these laws include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (which prohibits age discrimination), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (which prohibits disability discrimination), among others.  Note, however, that for employers to be covered by these laws, they must have a minimum number of employees; as a result, there are many employers that are not covered by these laws.

Connecticut also prohibits employment discrimination through the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.  That law covers all employers with three or more employees, and it prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, national origin, ancestry, and mental or physical disability.

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Joshua R. Goodbaum

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