Labor law, also referred to as employee law, is a versatile field for paralegals that want to specialize in the employer-employee relationship in both union and non-union workplaces. Paralegals offer attorneys invaluable support when navigating the intricacies and complexities of labor law.
Consider this: The Department of Labor (DOL) administers and enforces more than 180 federal laws, which affect more than 10 million employers and 125 million workers!
Traditionally, labor lawyers worked primarily for, or on behalf of, unions and union members. Their work focuses on the standards of the National Labor Relations Act, which includes collective bargaining. Many paralegals in labor law work alongside attorneys who must negotiate collective bargaining agreements and advise union leaders on how to represent union members in arbitration meetings.
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However, because unions and their workers often participate in activities that fall outside the realm of traditional labor law statutes, the labor law specialty today also deals with many issues traditionally considered to be employment law issues, making the field of labor law quite extensive.
The Role of Paralegals in Labor and Employment Law
Labor and employment attorneys and the paralegals that work alongside them address a wide range of issues related to the structure of employer-employee relationships. These include:
Hourly wage standards continue to be an important part of labor and employment law. Some of the standards addressed include:
- Minimum wage
- Overtime pay
- Family and medical benefits
- Prevailing wages
- Non-U.S. citizens in temporary, migrant, or agricultural work
Paralegals in labor and employment law often work on issues related to workplace discrimination and disability laws. They must therefore be proficient in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Safety and Health
Labor law paralegals address issues related to safety and health regulations, which includes ensuring employers adopt certain practices to protect workers on the job. Some of the topics often covered by lawyers and paralegals in this area include mine safety and general occupational safety.
Benefits and Pensions
One of the areas many labor and employment paralegals spend time addressing is benefits, which includes insurance plans, retirement benefits, pension, daycare and tuition reimbursement plans, sick leave, and vacation pay, among others.
Paralegals in this area must be adept at benefits and pension regulation, which includes employee benefit trust regulation, pension insurance, and unemployment insurance benefits.
Workers’ compensation programs include federal (DOL) programs, such as the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, the Federal Employees’ Compensation Program, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Program, and the Black Lung Benefits Program, as well as programs administered by state governments and through the private sector.
Where Labor and Employment Paralegals Work
Labor and employment paralegals work in all levels of government. At the federal level, they work for the:
- National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
- Department of Labor; in offices such as the:
- Office of the Solicitor
- Wage and Hour Division
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- Office of Labor Management Standards
- Federal Labor Relations Authority
- National Mediation Board
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (maintains 53 field offices in addition to a D.C. headquarters)
- Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice
- Office of Personnel Management
At the state level, employment paralegals work for state departments of: labor, workforce development, industrial accidents, and labor relations. Paralegals in many state agencies work under attorneys who provide legal advice to agency employees or other related agencies in an effort to improve workplace safety and health, enforce state and local collective bargaining law, and make policy for workforce development. Many also work in state solicitors’ offices and state human rights commissions.
Paralegals in employment and labor law may find meaningful work in labor bureaus and the civil rights divisions of state attorneys generals’ offices and also lend their expertise to local law departments and city attorney’s offices that focus on labor and employment law issues.
Other settings in which paralegals with employment and labor law knowledge work include nonprofit organizations such as the Employment Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, and public interest firms.
Job Duties and Responsibilities of Paralegals in Employment and Labor Law
Paralegals in employment and labor law work for attorneys who carry out:
- Regulatory work
- Legal advising
Although the job duties and responsibilities of paralegals vary according to the area of employment and labor law practiced, general job duties include:
- Developing forms and agreements regarding policies, procedures, and best practices
- Conducting research on legal issues
- Providing legal support and assistance with the preparation of responses regarding employment issues
- Assisting in general litigation, which includes coordinating and directing case strategy, preparing case documentation and evidence, and assisting with discovery and interview activities
- Maintaining budgets and overseeing billing activities
- Identifying best practices for litigation management
How to Become a Labor Law Paralegal
A career as a labor law paralegal begins by completing a program in paralegal studies approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
ABA-approved programs range from certificate programs to associate degree programs to bachelor’s degree programs. Although there is no minimum educational requirement for becoming a paralegal, many paralegal professional associations, including the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), recommend a program of at least 60 semester credits.
Further, both NALA and the AAfPE recommend completing an internship of at least six months. Paralegals interested in labor law earn valuable, on-the-job experience by completing an internship in this area of law.
Professional Paralegal Certification
Professional certification, although a voluntary effort, is a typical request among employers and the ideal opportunity for paralegals to display their advanced knowledge and experience in the paralegal profession.
Advanced certificate programs are another way for paralegals in labor and employment law to display a commitment to this area of law. A number of institutions offer these programs, designed for practicing paralegals that hold an ABA-approved degree or certificate. Many are offered in a fully online format that accommodates busy professionals. Graduates receive a certificate of completion.
Topics covered in these certificate programs include:
- Discrimination laws
- Labor management relations
- Labor organizations and unfair labor practices
- Wrongful discharge
Salaries for Paralegals in Labor and Employment Law
A 2014 national NALA survey revealed that paralegals specializing in employee benefits earned an annual, average salary of $59,625, while their colleagues specializing in employee labor law earned a similar annual salary of $58,538. Both of these paralegal specializations earned more than the national average of $58,410.