10 U.S. Labor Laws Protecting the Rights of Workers

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Person in a business suit holding a hard hatWorkers’ Compensation Programs


Workers’ compensation programs are programs that compensate employees who are injured on the job. They can provide medical funding directly or compensate the employee with a lump sum. Examples of workers’ compensation programs are the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, and the Black Lung Benefits Act.

Norris-LaGuardia Act (1932)

The Norris-LaGuardia act was passed in a time in which workers had essentially no rights to organize. Courts routinely issues injunctions against striking and picketing by workers. These injunctions could be issues merely on the basis of testimony by the employer. Uncooperative workers were fined and jailed without trial or due process.

The Act protected the workers’ right to strike, and strictly forbade courts from violating a worker’s right to strike, organize in a union, assist somebody else involved in a labor dispute, peaceful picketing, and peaceable assembly. The Act declared that “the individual unorganized worker is commonly helpless to exercise actual liberty” under the conditions of the modern capitalist economy.

National Labor Relations Act (1935)

Passed in 1935, this law, more than any other, dictates the terms of labor relations in the private sector.  The NLRA establishes certain rights for employees—self-organization, to form or join labor organizations, to bargain collectively, and to engage in other activities of collective bargaining, or mutual aid or protection.

It also establishes prohibitions on how employers are permitted to interfere with these rights. It prohibits company unions, and rules as an unfair labor practice the discrimination against workers engaged in collective bargaining. If a workers’ rights are violated, the worker can file a charge with regional National Labor Relations Board offices within six months of the employer’s violation.

Fair Labor Standards Act (1938)

The result of a long-fought struggle on the part of workers, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 standardizes the eight-hour day and prohibits child labor. Children under sixteen are barred from working. Additionally, the Act instituted a minimum wage.

Taft-Hartley Act (1947)

The Taft-Hartley Act is a series of amendments to the NLRA, passed in a more conservative post-war climate, that were intended to forbid unfair labor practices by unions. Two important sections, widely considered anti-labor, are the “secondary boycott” provision and the “right to work” provision.

A “secondary boycott” is the boycotting of someone else’s employer. The provision in the Act outlaws this, meaning a union worker cannot picket another worker’s employer. The “right to work” provision allows for state legislatures to outlaw “union shops,” meaning a situation in which new employees must join the union within a certain time period.

Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (1959)

Also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, this law was passed in response to corruption and racketeering in labor unions. It guarantees an equal right for every union member to nominate and vote for union leadership, attend meetings, and take part in discussions. It also protects union members from being disciplined for suing a union. The Act also regulates elections in unions more rigorously.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964)

According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, no employer may “refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his [or her] compensation, terms, condition, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967)

ADEA prohibits employment discrimination against people of age 40 or older. It also prohibits employers from refusing to refer a person for employment on the basis of age. ADEA also covers unions, prohibiting them from refusing to include members on the basis of age.

Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970)

OSHA covers private sector businesses with two or more employees. It requires employers to keep the workplace free from hazardous conditions. The Act creates and defines three rights for employees: a “right to know” information about the dangers involved in their job, a right to file OSHA complaints to control workplace hazards, and a right to not be punished for exercising rights protected by OSHA.

Family and Medical Leave Act (1993)

FMLA lets eligible employees take unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons without the danger of losing their jobs and along with the continuation of their health insurance. They are allowed twelve workweeks of leave in the event of the birth of a child, to care for a spouse or child with a serious health condition, or a serious health condition that prevents the employee from adequately performing their job.

Learn More

Earning a master’s in emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University can help you increase your knowledge of the safety industry and demonstrate a continued commitment to learning and leadership. Whether you aspire to work at the governmental level or move into the private sector, our distinguished faculty of safety professionals delivers a comprehensive curriculum that can translate wherever safety matters most.

Recommended Reading

When Companies Refuse to Pay OSHA Fines

The Economic Aspect of Health and Safety

Occupational Safety in the Age of Robotics


U.S, Department of Labor “Summary of the Major Laws of the Department of Labor”
National Labor Relations Board, “Basic Guide to the National Labor Relations Act”
U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission “The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967”
U.S. Department of Labor, “Family and Medical Leave Act”