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What Do Employee Rights Attorneys Do?

By J. D. Kenrich
Updated Feb 15, 2024
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Employee rights attorneys specialize in a legal practice area characterized by a broad diversity of client types, issue areas and venues. Whether working on behalf of private clients seeking remedies through civil litigation, as advocates for regulatory and legislative reform, or inside governmental agencies charged with protecting the rights of unionized workers, these lawyers must achieve mastery of issues including racial discrimination in hiring, wage and benefit disputes, family and medical leave concerns, wrongful termination allegations and workplace safety matters. Regardless of the forum in which they work, attorneys within this specialty share the common goal of ensuring fair employment practices across all sectors of the economy.

The areas of harassment and discrimination based on race, gender, national origin or other protected classifications comprise a significant part of the work undertaken by employee rights attorneys. The laws governing this type of workplace conduct vary by jurisdiction and, therefore, it is incumbent on practitioners to familiarize themselves with all statutes and case law pertaining to their clients' concerns. Employee rights attorneys frequently assume representation of aggrieved parties in all types of dispute resolution proceedings, including arbitration, informal negotiations with employers and, if necessary, civil litigation.

Wage and benefit disputes form another significant focus of many employee rights attorneys. Among the issues often litigated or negotiated are minimum wage rules, health insurance coverage requirements, pension regulations and disability matters. Disputes involving the application of medical and family leave policies and laws also form the basis of numerous matters handled by practitioners within this specialty.

Wrongful termination and other issues pertaining to the end of an employment relationship also fall under the purview of employee rights attorneys. Insurance continuation rules, the enforceability of non-competition agreements, and entitlement to unemployment benefits are all topics frequently addressed by lawyers dedicated to advocating on behalf of employees. These disputes may form the basis of litigation or arbitration but may also be subject to the jurisdiction of specialized administrative agencies before which employee rights attorneys regularly appear.

Further specialization within the field of employee rights advocacy can be found in lawyers working within governmental agencies responsible for protecting the rights of workers. In the United States, the National Labor Relations Board employs an army of attorneys charged with ensuring the right to organize and designate bargaining representatives. Additionally, such lawyers work to halt and provide means of redress following instances of unfair labor practices, regardless of whether they originate from private employers or the unions themselves. Employee rights attorneys wishing to effect changes in prevailing public policy often accept positions with advocacy groups and think tanks. No matter which sub-specialty is ultimately chosen, the tremendous breadth of issues facing workers in all employment categories makes this area of law attractive to many.

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