US Workers Benefit to Workplace Regulations

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

Anyone living in the United States at the moment is undoubtedly aware that the 2016 election season is in full swing. This week, the news has been dominated by the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. On Tuesday night, the theme of the Convention was – ostensibly – “Make America Work Again.” Despite the stated theme, the speakers rarely touched on economic policies or issues, instead preferring to resort to the same attacks against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton ­– private email server, Benghazi, etc. – that were made the night before.

On the few occasions where the Convention speakers did touch on economic issues, they primarily bemoaned the state of the “middle class worker” in America. According to the speakers, the problem facing middle class American workers is that “regulation” is choking the economy and preventing American business owners from doing whatever they need to in order to create jobs.

We at the Harman Firm disagree with that diagnosis. The United States has a proud tradition of enacting legislation that benefits the working class. For example:

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is one of the oldest worker-protection laws in the United States, dating back to the 1930s. It establishes the forty hour workweek, provides Americans with the basic security of a minimum wage, and allows for millions to receive overtime pay. One of the “regulations” that Republicans are upset about is the proposed rule expanding overtime coverage. The FLSA is fundamental to the well-being of workers in the United States, and any attempts to weaken or undermine it would result in hardship to workers.

Another piece of legislation that forms the bedrock for workers’ rights in the United States is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation that addressed discrimination throughout American society. Title VII specifically prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Title VII is the primary source of anti-discrimination protections for millions of Americans, evolving as the nation’s sensibilities toward vulnerable groups matures; the EEOC – the administrative agency tasked with enforcing Title VII – recently extended its protection to include discrimination based on sexual origin.

The “regulation” bogeyman is not limited to employment law – Republicans routinely decry environmental regulations, trade regulations, and more. However, Republicans are in favor of more regulation when it comes to sexual orientation discrimination: laws that prohibit municipalities from taking action against sexual orientation discrimination.

Workers should remember that “regulations” aren’t simply government red tape. They are laws enacted to protect workers against discrimination, exploitation, and unsafe conditions. Although some suggest that discrimination has been dealt with and that people should be free to engage in whatever employment they see fit, the reality is that in the employee-employer relationship, the power remains firmly with the employer. Not only are these protections still necessary, many do not go far enough; we need to continue to strive for fairness at work.