The employer-employee relationship is a matter of agreement between the two parties and is, therefore, not subject to review by federal or state enforcement agencies. That being said, while federal and state labor laws don't dictate when or if employers can discipline their employees, some labor and employment laws govern the manner in which employers can determine the employees subject to disciplinary action. Although there aren't laws that prohibit disciplining employees, there are labor laws that prohibit applying disciplinary actions inconsistently based on non-job-related factors.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discriminatory acts by employers in the hiring, promoting and firing of employees. It a labor and employment law that protects the rights of employees, without regard to race, color, national origin, religion or sex. Employers' disciplinary rules that run afoul of Title VII's rules would include giving female workers write-ups for violating the company's attendance policy and not admonishing male workers for violating the same policy. Although employers can discipline employees as they see fit, they are required to apply disciplinary action consistently among the entire workforce, regardless of non-job-related factors.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
The ADA affords workers with disabilities -- including workers whose employers just perceive them as disabled -- with equal employment opportunity. The act prohibits employers from denying employment to workers who can perform the essential functions of their jobs with or without accommodation. It also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to assist disabled workers with their ability to do their work. Disabled workers aren't any more subject to disciplinary action than their non-disabled counterparts. For example, the employer can't write-up an employee to retaliate for having to supply the employee with a raised desk to accommodate a wheelchair.
Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993
Employers covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act law are required to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to address the employee's own serious medical condition or that of a family member. Employees have to have been employed by the company for at least 12 months, and must have worked at least 1,250 hours. Importantly, FMLA provides job protection for employees who take leave under the act. This means the company can't penalize an employee with discipline or deny the employee her job, or an equivalent job, once she returns from leave.
National Labor Relations Act
Employers are specifically prohibited from disciplining employees who exercise their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. The law says that employees who engage in collective activity can't be subject to adverse employment actions. For example, during a union election campaign, employers can't threaten to write up employees who demonstrate an interest in union membership. The act also says that employees aren't interested in joining a union can't be subject to discipline, termination or any other adverse employment action.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.