"We don't stop living when we go to work and, very often today, we don't stop working when we arrive home" writes former Financial Times columnist Richard Donkin in his book, The Future of Work.

Blackberries, iPhones and laptops have made it possible to work from anywhere, any time. The positive side is that you can work from any place in the world. The downside is it's now very hard to disconnect and distance yourself. The lines between work and home are blurrier than ever.

Are You An Employee?

The changing workplace also raises some interesting legal questions. In the past, most people entered the workforce through the traditional setting. They interviewed for a job, and if they got it, they began working in the organization shortly thereafter and stayed until they found another job or retired.

Technological progress and changes in the economy make the use of freelancers, telecommuters and consultants much more widespread. Most of these employees don't even come into the office and can do all of their work remotely.

These employees raise interesting legal questions:

  • Liability: what happens if they get injured? Do worker's compensation laws apply? When does the work day begin and end?
  • Jurisdiction and choice of law: as many workers are performing their work in different states or different countries, whose law applies?
  • Overtime, minimum wage and other labor regulations: as more workers are finding themselves outside the traditional work environment, what regulations exist to protect their rights?

Donkins explains how with today's technological changes, the entire work place is shifting. Even people in traditional full-time jobs must adapt and respond to changing social and living patterns.

More Flexibility

A desire for more flexible working hours from both employers and employees has led to blurred lines in the workplace. Formal working hours may still be around, but flex-time and other non-traditional work patterns have developed. Breaks and overtime may seem like a thing of the past. Employers have felt the impact of these trends with the rise of outsourcing and other untraditional work arrangements.

Employment Laws

Today's existing legislation and employment policies created for an industrial workplace don't cover the diversity of our new workplace. Lawmakers haven't created laws to match this new landscape. As the workplace continues to change, progressive responses in contract, tax and employment law need to be made.

The Future of Work

After the Industrial Revolution, it took legislators many years to reform the labor abuses that grew with rapid industrialization. Child labor lawshealth protection and overtime laws were created and strengthened from the growing needs of the time.

Workforces must also adapt to the new landscape and develop new ways to deal with the long-hours and other legal obstacles that have appeared. Government groups and employers must move quickly to create policies better fitted to changing perceptions of work.

Employees, employers and attorneys also need to re-examine contracts to deal with the new changing workplace. Form contracts no longer apply to untraditional job settings and will need more creativity.

There is a new world of work out there, and we all need to make adjustments. It's time to think of employment in a new era and make the changes necessary to keep up with it.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Does my employer have to give me health benefits if I'm a consultant?
  • If my company is based in New York, and I live in New Jersey, which states labor laws cover me? Both?
  • I'm a salaried employee but find myself working all of the time. Are there limits to the time I'm expected to work?

Tagged as: Labor and Employment, Wage and Hour Law, work life, labor lawyer