Labor lawyer or employment lawyer? Is there a difference? The answer depends on who you ask. Ask the man or woman on the street and they may tell you there’s no difference. “Labor and employment lawyer” is a common term, and in casual discussion it does no harm.
Ask a lawyer, however, and you’ll learn that there is a difference, and it’s important. Labor lawyers --- sometimes called “traditional” labor lawyers --- generally deal with relations between management and labor unions, the rights of employees who are unionized or want to be, and collective bargaining agreements. Because unions enter into collective bargaining agreements with management on behalf of their members, which are essentially mass employment contracts with unique characteristics, both the employer and the union need legal counsel who are familiar with “traditional” labor law.
An employment lawyer, on the other hand, is a lawyer who deals with the much broader relationship between non-union employers and employees. Their field encompasses such things as employment contracts, non-competition and confidentiality agreements, the at-will employment relationship, civil rights, wage and hour statutes and regulations, whistleblowing, leave laws, and various kinds of anti-discrimination statutes.
The difference between labor and employment law is important because, if you need someone with the narrow expertise of a labor lawyer, hiring an employment lawyer could land your attorney in a situation where he is learning on the fly. That’s not a good place to be. Conversely, asking a labor lawyer to deal with wage and hour laws could have the same effect.
Further complicating the situation is that some lawyers are well qualified in both labor and employment law.
In short, if you’re looking for a lawyer when there’s a union involved, your first online search should be for a labor lawyer. For everyone else, start your search with employment lawyers.
At Steinberg Law we’re here to educate you about employment law. Please contact us with your questions.