Labor and Employment Law Courses

Labor Law (4 credits)
This course will focus on the statutory, judicial, and administrative law governing the collective organization of workers and the interaction between such collective organizations and employers. The course will introduce students to the basics of traditional labor law and will explore how labor law is evolving in response both to innovative forms of labor-management relations and to changes in the composition of the U.S. labor force. The class will consider the legal status of privately negotiated processes for organizing and recognizing unions, state and local approaches to labor law innovation, and new forms of workplace organization. We will also explore the intersection of labor and immigration law, union participation in the political process, and emerging forms of worker organizing that rely not on the National Labor Relations Act but on other statutory regimes.

Employment Law (4 credits)
In this 4-credit course, we will examine the laws that govern and structure the employment relationship in nonunion workplaces. As such, the course will provide students an understanding of the law of work for the vast majority of U.S. firms. We will discuss the doctrine of employment at will, along with exceptions to that rule. We will cover the basic principles of employment discrimination law; the constitutional rights (including the free speech rights) of public employees; mandatory arbitration of workplace disputes and employment rights; post-employment issues including covenants not to compete; workplace safety and health; and the laws governing wages and hours.

Labor & Employment Lab (2 credits)
In this two unit course, students will generate and publish writing on labor and employment law, labor politics, and contemporary labor market trends including developments related to the on-demand/sharing economy. Class meetings will be highly interactive and collaborative. Part of each class session will be dedicated to developing research topics and part will be dedicated to discussing each other’s work. Students will be required to write four substantive posts of approximately 750-1000 words each to be published on the OnLabor blog. The course will provide students interested in labor and employment the opportunity to research and write on cutting edge issues and to publish their work for a live and extensive audience.

Employment Discrimination (2-3 credits)
This course will examine civil rights law in the workplace, one of the most hotly litigated bodies of law in recent decades. Although employers have great latitude when making employment decisions under common law, a variety of statutes regulate decisions that are based on protected characteristics, such as race, gender, age, religion, national origin, or disability. On the federal level, those statutes include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Family & Medical Leave Act, and more. Over time, those statutory protections have been subject to constant review and revision, both by courts called upon to resolve conflicting values and norms and by legislatures responding to competing political pressures. In studying core aspects of the doctrine that have remained relatively stable, as well as aspects that have changed over time, we will examine the forces that have influenced the ongoing development of this area of law. The course will cover various topics related to rights and procedures, including the increased prevalence of mandatory arbitration agreements and the role of class action litigation.

Employment Law Workshop: Advocacy Skills (2 credits)
This course will develop lawyering skills in the context of employment law. After a brief overview of relevant doctrine and procedure, the course will address – through readings, lectures, and exercises – skills related to legal writing, oral advocacy, discovery, depositions, negotiations, counseling, and ethics. The course will follow the progress of a typical civil rights lawsuit involving a terminated employee. For example, one class session will require students to engage in a mock deposition of an opposing witness in a hypothetical sex discrimination case, and the next class will require students to engage in a negotiation in the same case. A more general goal of the course is to develop the ability (1) to identify what skills make a lawyer effective, and (2) to implement strategies for independently identifying and improving those critical skills. Because this goal is advanced by exposure to actual lawyering, all students will have a clinical placement with the Employment Law Clinic. The workshop will require completion of an individual or group project that will connect clinical placements with course topics.

Employment Law Workshop: Strategies for Social Change (2 credits)
This course will examine how lawyers can use different strategies to effect social change, with a special emphasis on advancing the right to be free from workplace discrimination based on protected characteristics such as race and sex. After surveying the relevant law and reviewing empirical information about the nature of civil rights violations, we will evaluate possible strategies for social change, including government action, individual and class action litigation, self regulation, alternative dispute resolution, organizing, and social entrepreneuring. All students will have a clinical placement through the Employment Law Clinic. All clinical placements will include exposure to some aspect of employment rights and will play an important role in bringing diverse perspectives to the workshop. The workshop will require completion of an individual or group project. Projects may include some combination of empirical research, legal analysis, program evaluation, or other approaches to examining and improving the effectiveness of existing workplace protections.

ERISA (2 credits)
This two credit course will cover the comprehensive employee benefits regime under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, otherwise known as “ERISA”. Our goal will be to provide students a working understanding of the history and policies driving the legislative and regulatory efforts, the range and types of benefit plans affected, and the issues and challenges facing employers, employees, and fiduciaries.

OnLabor Blog

OnLa­bor is a blog de­voted to work­ers, unions, and their pol­i­tics. OnLabor interprets its subject broadly to include the current crisis in the traditional union movement (why union decline is happening and what it means for our society); the new and contested forms of worker organization that are filling the labor union gap; how work ought to be structured and managed; how workers ought to be represented and compensated; and the appropriate role of government – all three branches – in each of these issues. The blog is edited by Professor Benjamin Sachs, Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry. Students can get involved by taking the Labor & Employment Lab or by emailing Professor Sachs.

Labor & Worklife Program

The Labor & Worklife Program is Harvard University’s center for research, teaching and creative problem solving related to the world of work and its implications for society. Located at Harvard Law School, LWP brings together scholars, students, practitioners, community members and policy experts from a variety of disciplines. LWP organizes projects and programs that (1) examine critical changes in labor markets, labor law, and the experiences of working people and (2) analyze the role of advocates, unions, worker organizations, business, and government in improving the quality of life for working families in the U.S. and around the world. The LWP is led by Executive Director Sharon Block, who previously served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor and Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor.

LWP carries out its mission through three main activities:

  • Convenings and Policy Development: LWP regularly holds forums, conferences, and strategy summits and produces scholarship, analysis, and policy proposals to advance innovative solutions for the challenges facing working families.
  • Research: LWP serves as the institutional home at Harvard for scholars from the fields of law, economics, sociology, history and other disciplines working on labor and worklife issues.  LWP creates an intellectual community for scholars from across the U.S. and around the world.
  • Harvard Trade Union Program: LWP is the home of the Harvard Trade Union Program, the oldest executive leadership program at Harvard.  HTUP works closely with trade unions around the world to bring excellence in labor education to trade union leadership.
  • Other Projects: Labor and Worklife Program research and policy projects may provide opportunities for students to serve as research assistants. In addition, interested students are invited to attend many of the LWP lectures and conferences.

Employment Law Clinic

The Employment Civil Rights Clinic focuses on rights in the workplace, including state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on race, sex, disability, and other protected characteristics. Clinical work may also address issues such as unemployment benefits, wage and hour claims, severance negotiations, union issues, workplace safety, and more. Externships include placements with nonprofits (such as the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders), government agencies (such as the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the U.S. Department of Labor), legal services offices (such as Greater Boston Legal Services), or private firms. Participation in the clinic requires enrollment in an accompanying 2-credit course, such as Employment Law Workshop: Advocacy Skills (fall) or Employment Law Workshop: Strategies for Social Change (spring).

Wage & Hour at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) is unique among HLS programs of clinical legal education in that its legal services program is student-run. Founded in 1913, HLAB has a long history of responding to the legal needs of low-income people in the greater Boston area. The Bureau consists of approximately 50 second- and third-year student members who make two-year commitments to the Bureau’s program of clinical education and legal services to the indigent community. Student membership in HLAB carries with it an integrated two-year academic and clinical training in legal practice skills and ethics. HLAB members are expected to devote at least 20 hours per week of clinical practice and related activities.

Students represent indigent clients in civil matters in the Massachusetts courts, before administrative agencies, before legislative bodies, and in various other fora. Working under the supervision of eight clinical instructors who collectively have extensive public interest and private practice experience, all students assume direct responsibility for representation of clients from intake interview to final disposition. Wage and hour law is a growing practice area among the 300+ cases HLAB handles each year.


The Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA) has developed Labor & Employment Law: A Career Guide.