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Rights of Laborers Under 18th and 19th-Century Case and Common Law Research Paper

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Updated: May 9th, 2022

Introduction

Laborers are people who earn a living from activities that require bodily strength. In most cases, they only have a basic education with no college degree and therefore are not in a position to secure white-collar jobs. Starting 18th to the 19th century, there were different rights awarded to laborers to ensure that they were not taken advantage of especially due to their lack of formal education and their lack of financial power to file legal suits against their employers. This research paper is going to look at the different rights that were awarded to laborers both as individuals and as groups by court rulings. Some of the rights are similar to those of other workers who are not necessarily manual laborers.

Discussion

It is common law that traditionally governed the United State’s employment law. From the late 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, most relations relating to labor-management were regulated by the courts. Rulings, therefore, varied from one case to another. During the 19th century, several cases were brought to court by workers complaining about poor pay. This led to rulings that stipulated the minimum wage amount that people performing certain tasks were to be paid. This made sure that the workers were not taken advantage of and that they would be able to support their basic needs. Workers in the same position should receive equal pay (Ullmann 18).

Laborers have the right to be compensated if they are injured in the course of duty. Before the 19th century, this was not compulsory and workers who were injured while working would only get compensated through tort or civil law. In the 18th century, machinery became more common in organizations leading to increased accidents at the workplace. The laws at that time supported employers therefore it was difficult for the injured to get compensated. At the beginning of the 19th century, however, the courts made it compulsory for employees who were injured due to the negligence of their employers to receive compensation. There are three basic protections that should be given to workers who are injured while working and they include; compensation of any medical bills that may have been incurred, in case of a permanent injury, they have the right to get a settlement and the right to receive two-thirds of the average wage. Laborers should not be wrongfully terminated. There were several nineteenth-century cases regarding wrongful termination from employment and not only does an employee have a right to be informed of the reason for his termination but also a right to justify his actions. The worker has a right to receive reasonable notice on the termination of his employment as it was held in the 1960 case between Bardal and Globe & Mail. In Bramble v Medis Health and Pharmaceutical Services Inc [1999], it was held that the amount of time that is deemed reasonable is such a time that gives the employee adequate time to seek alternative employment (Ullmann 56).

Workers have the right to organize and fight for better terms of employment. This right was first given by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in an 1842 ruling. From the ruling of the 1842 cases between Commonwealth and Hunt, a group of employees would collectively come together to bargain for their wages. Previous rulings however did not recognize this. In the Cordwainess case, for instance, a group of journey shoemakers was convicted and fined for collectively failing to work to have their wages increased. This right applies to laborers in groups rather than individuals. They are allowed to form labor unions through which they would forward their grievances to their employers. Some court rulings gave the labor unions a right to strike provided the strikes did not affect those workers who were willing to work under the prevailing circumstance. Strikes are therefore optional and no employee should be forced to participate. This right however depended on the conduct and purpose of the strike. Through these strikes, the workers are able to negotiate over their wages as well as their working conditions. In the Vegalahn v. Guntner (1896) case, it was held that picketing was illegal (Twomey 380). All laborers have a right to fair representation and there should be no form of discrimination based on race, sex or any other factor. In the case between Steele and Nashville Railroad Company of 1944, the Supreme Court ruled that labor unions should fairly represent all workers in bargaining without putting into consideration their race. A labor union cannot fail to represent a worker just because he or she is from a minority race. Similarly in Griggs vs. Duke Power Corporation (1971), the court ruled that for any promotion and hiring policies with a direct impact on the employee’s race to be lawful, they should relate to the job. Employers however have a right to protect employees who are from a minority racial group. In some 19th-century court rulings, employers were given the power to give preferential treatment to such minority groups. According to a 1987 ruling, quotas would be one of the remedies for employees who had previously been discriminated against by their employers. Laborers have a right to equal employment opportunities despite social and cultural diversity.

People should also not be denied an employment opportunity based on gender. Women are the most affected since in most regions they fail to receive similar education as their male counterparts. They are therefore denied the chance to take up some forms of employment. According to common law, however, this should not be the case and the ability of a person to perform a certain task should not be prejudged based on their gender.

According to the court’s ruling in Teresa Harris v. Forklift Systems (1993), sexual harassment was another form of discrimination and is therefore prohibited. The court gave details of what practices amount to sexual harassment in order to avoid confusion. People with disability should also not be discriminated against as was the ruling in Sutton v. United States. In this case, the court held that people with correctable impairments should not be classified as people with disability and should therefore be treated like any other normal persons (Twomey 426).

Workers who are not satisfied with their work have the right to terminate employment. This implies that employment should be at will and no employee should be forced to remain in employment against his will provided that he does not go against the terms of his employment contract. He should however give the employer reasonable notice in the event that such a period of notice is not indicated in the employment contract (Ullmann 28).

Conclusion

It is therefore clear that in the 18th and 19th centuries there were a number of cases pertaining to the relationship between employers and employees. The judicial rulings that were made in those days still apply to date and they ensure that employees are able to fight for their rights. The common law cases are important because if employers were allowed to freely conduct their employee affairs as they deem right, they will most likely infringe on their employee’s basic rights. Child labor is prohibited and therefore any employee seeking to recruit should confirm that the prospective laborer is an adult and is of sound mind.

Works cited

Twomey, David. Labor & employment law: text & cases. Mason, Ohio: South-Western Cengage Learning, 2010. Print. Ullmann, Victoria. Labor and employment law. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson/Delmar Learning, 2004. Print.

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