“Labor” & “Employment” Lawyers – or “Labor Law” versus “Employment Law”

Jan 26 2018

The law can be a mysterious field to many lay people, not least because of all the technical words we lawyers use — words like “jurisdiction,” “affidavit,” or “hearsay.”  This mystery seems to apply no less when we talk about the kind of law that different lawyers practice.  So, for example, lawyers who help their clients get out of marriages generally don’t say that they do “divorce law”; they usually prefer the term “family law.”  And lawyers who help their clients buy and sell houses don’t do “housing law”; those lawyers practice “real estate law” or, even more technically, “the law of real property.”

Not surprisingly, the vexing vocabulary that characterizes so much of legal practice also extends to the work of our firm.  Throughout Connecticut and the United States more broadly, Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti is known as a “labor and employment” firm.  And that is mostly — or at least half — true.  It is true in that we represent working people of all stripes — from company presidents, to professors, to pipe fitters, and everyone in between.  In that sense, we are “employment lawyers.”

“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)).

“Labor law,” in contrast, regulates the relationship between businesses and labor unions (such as the AFL-CIO or SEIU).  “Labor law” describes concepts like the right to unionize and the negotiation, interpretation, and enforcement of collective bargaining agreements.  The primary forum for “labor law” disputes is the National Labor Relations Board (or NLRB).  At Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, we strongly support the right of workers to unionize.  But we do not represent unions (or management) as clients.  So we do not do “labor law.”  That is why we are members — and leaders — of the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) but not the Lawyers Coordinating Committee (LCC).

In summary, although “labor law” and “employment law” are often used interchangeably, and we at Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti are happy to be considered alongside our distinguished peers who practice “labor law,” technically we are “employment lawyers.”

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Joshua R. Goodbaum

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