Labor and employment law

The employment relationship is one of the most important legal relationships in most people’s lives. Employment relationships serve not only as the primary source of support for most people and their families, but also as an important source of social relationships, personal identity, and personal fulfillment. The employment relationship poses some particularly interesting legal questions because it comprises both a collective interest between employers and employees in mutual success and individual interests in employers and employees benefiting at the expense of the other.

The study of labor and employment law is divided into three general subject areas: employment law, labor law, and employment discrimination law.

  • Employment law generally refers to the law governing individual employment contracts and individual statutory rights and responsibilities. Common employment law topics include:
    • Establishing the employment relationship
    • The employment-at-will doctrine and exceptions to this doctrine
    • Covenants not to compete
    • The protection of intellectual property
    • Minimum wage and maximum hour legislation
    • Unemployment compensation
    • Workers’ compensation
    • Occupational safety and health
    • Employee retirement income security
  • Labor law generally refers to the law governing union organizing, collective bargaining agreements, and the rights and responsibilities of unions and employers in a collective bargaining relationship. Common labor law topics include:
    • The right to organize
    • Union organizing campaigns
    • Appropriate bargaining units and recognition elections
    • Collective bargaining and bargaining in “good faith”
    • Strikes and lockouts
    • Enforcing the collective agreement
    • The union’s duty to fairly represent the employees
  • Employment discrimination law generally refers to the law prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of such characteristics as race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age or disability. Because it deals largely with individual rights and responsibilities, employment discrimination law is a subset of employment law, but it is generally deemed important enough and different enough in its issues and analysis that it is treated as its own subject area.


After the required first-year courses, students may select from a broad range of offerings in the field of labor and employment law, including several externship and clinical opportunities.

Core courses
Related courses

Student activities and opportunities

  • Each year, one or two students have their way paid to the National Law Students Workers’ Rights Conference hosted by the Peggy Browning fund and the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C.
  • Students also regularly participate in the Peggy Browning Fellowship (working in the summer for organizations such as the AFL-CIO, the Chicago Newspaper Guild, AFSCME, and Friends of Farm Workers, Inc.); summer clerkships with the UAW Legal Department in Detroit, Michigan; the AFL-CIO’s Law Student Union Summer; and clerkships with the International Labor Organization (ILO).
  • The Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality publishes employment law related articles regularly.
  • The Labor and Employment Law Society sponsors lectures and discussions on labor and employment law topics and serves as a network for students looking for jobs in labor and employment law.
  • The Business and Law Society sponsors lectures and informal discussions and provides members with a forum to discuss their ideas, as well as opportunities to meet practicing business lawyers.
  • The Elmore Entrepreneurship Law Clinic provides a capstone experience for students enrolled in joint degree programs in law and business.
  • Two writing competitions are open to students in this area: the Louis Jackson National Student Writing Competition in Employment and Labor Law and UCLA's Dukeminier competition for notes on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Related programs at Indiana University—Bloomington

  • Labor Studies Program, School of Social Work: Labor Studies is an interdisciplinary field that deals with work, the workplace, and workers and their organizations. It draws from the fields of history, economics, industrial relations, political science, law, sociology, communication, and philosophy, as well as other disciplines. As an academic discipline, Labor Studies educates workers and future workers to strengthen the labor movement and provide a richer understanding of its functions in society.
  • School of Public and Environmental Affairs: The School of Public and Environmental Affairs offers a number of courses of interest to students interested in public-sector employment concerns, including Human Resource Management in the Public Sector and Labor Relations in the Public Sector.
  • Kelley School of Business: The highly ranked Kelley School of Business offers courses in human resources and management relevant to labor and employment lawyers.