Labour law is one of the most controversial areas of law because it deals with one of the most fundamental social relationships, that of work. It regulates the relationship between employers and employees, unions and the state. These relationships can and regularly do generate conflict and they have a great deal of importance to almost every person in society. This is because in the capitalist economic system, the majority of people rely on paid employment to provide for themselves and those that depend upon them. Also, people generally derive a sense of dignity and self worth from their work which can also be a source of conflict because of the personal and sometimes emotional investment which people have in their work.
Employment relations are also a highly political issue. It is one of the few areas where there are significant differences between Republicans and Democrats on policy matters. Basically, labour law aims to organise and harmonise the relationship between employers and employees, between organised labour and the state and to moderate the operation of the labour market in the interests of workers and employers. One of the most important assumptions for the traditional view of labour laws is the concept of work. Usually this is assumed to mean paid labour. Accordingly unpaid or voluntary work is not treated with a great deal of attention in the formation of jurisprudence in relation to labour law. The law also avoids the examination of the issue of domestic ‘work’ in families because this is so often performed without an expectation of payment. Feminist commentators on labour law often raises this as a criticism of labour law because the traditional definition of work can contribute to the subordination of women.
There is also another presumption in the law of work which can be made by policy makers and legislators which deserves examination. This is the distinction between people who contract their services independently to another organisation and those who work for an organisation as an employee. At certain times there has been a greater emphasis in the economy for the need for independent contractors because employers have preferred to use contractors as a method of reducing their obligations in relation to the procurement of labour. Contractors do not have the same need to withhold tax, pay retirement benefits, or the same rights in relation to redundancy pay and termination procedures so it is often much more convenient for employers to choose to use these types of workers as a replacement for an employment based model. Whatever the model of employment, it is often necessary to have an employment contract in writing to stipulate the desired relationship between the parties.