Employment is a contract between two parties, one being the employer and the other being the employee. An employee may be defined as: "A person in the service of another under any contract of hire, express or implied, oral or written, where the employer has the power or right to control and direct the employee in the material details of how the work is to be performed." Black's Law Dictionary page 471 (5th ed. 1979).
In a commercial setting, the employer conceives of a productive activity, generally with the intention of creating profits, and the employee contributes labour to the enterprise, usually in return for payment of wages.
In the United States, the "standard" employment contract is considered to be at-will meaning that the employer and employee are both free to terminate the employment at any time and for any cause, or for no cause at all. However, if a termination of employment by the employer is deemed unjust by the employee, there can be legal recourse to challenge such a termination. In unionised work environments in particular, employees who are receiving discipline, up to and including termination of employment can ask for assistance by their shop steward to advocate on behalf of the employee. If an informal negotiation between the shop steward and the company does not resolve the issue, the shop steward may file a grievance, which can result in a resolution within the company, or mediation or arbitration, which are typically funded equally both by the union and the company. In non-union work environments, in the United States, unjust termination complaints can be brought to the United States Department of Labor. In the Canadian province of Ontario, formal complaints can be brought to the Ministry of Labour (Ontario). In the province of Quebec, grievances can be filed with the Commission des normes du travail.
Employment is almost universal in capitalist societies. Opponents of capitalism such as Marxists oppose the capitalist employment system, considering it to be unfair that the people who contribute the majority of work to an organization do not receive a proportionate share of the profit. However, the surrealist and the situationist movements were among the few groups to actually oppose work, and during the partially surrealist-influenced events of May 1968 the walls of the Sorbonne were covered with anti-work graffiti.
Labourers often talk of "getting a job", or "having a job". This conceptual metaphor of a "job" as a possession has led to its use in slogans such as "money for jobs, not bombs". Similar conceptions are that of "land" as a possession (real estate) or intellectual rights as a possession (intellectual property). The Online Etymology Dictionary explains that the origin of "job" is from the obsolete phrase "jobbe of work" in the sense of "piece of work", and most dictionaries list the Middle English "gobbe" meaning "lump" (gob) as the origin of "jobbe". Attempts to link the word to the biblical character Job seem to be folk etymology.
An employer is a person or institution that hires employees or workers. Employers offer wages or a salary to the workers in exchange for the worker's labor power, depending upon whether the employee is paid by the hour or a set rate per pay period. A salaried employee is typically not paid more for more hours worked than the minimum, whereas wages are paid for all hours worked, including overtime.
Employers include everything from individuals hiring a babysitter to governments and businesses which may hire many thousands of employees. In most western societies governments are the largest single employers, but most of the work force is employed in small and medium businesses in the private sector.
Note that although employees may contribute to the evolution of an enterprise, the employer maintains autonomous control over the productive base of land and capital, and is the entity named in contracts. The employer typically also maintains ownership of intellectual property created by an employee within the scope of employment and as a function thereof. These are known as "works for hire".
Within large organisations, the management of employees is often handled by Human Resources departments at "arm's length". Hiring, discipline and terminations are typically rendered by the HR department, whereas supervisors and managers of individual departments provide instructions concerning daily activities, goals, etc. On the national scale, employers can be organised within employers' organisations. Employees can be organised in trade unions or in trade associations, such as the Construction Specifications Institute, which represents specification writers.
Specifically, an employee is any person hired by an employer to do a specific "job". In most modern economies the term employee refers to a specific defined relationship between an individual and a corporation, which differs from those of customer, or client. Most individuals attain the status of employee after a thorough process of interviews with several departments within a company. If the individual is determined to be a satisfactory fit for the position, he is given an official offer of employment within that company for a defined starting salary and position. This individual then has all the rights and privileges of an employee, which may include medical benefits and vacation days. The relationship between a corporation and its employees is usually handled through the human resources department, which handles the incorporation of new hires, and the disbursement of any benefits which the employee may be entitled, or any grievances that employee may have. An offer of employment, however, does not guarantee employment for any length of time and each party may terminate the relationship at any time. This is referred to as at will employment. While the terms accountant, lawyer and photographer might refer to professions, they are not employee titles, which may include Controller, Vice President of Legal Affairs, Head of Media Development.
There are differing classifications of workers within a company. Some are full-time and permanent and receive a guaranteed salary, while others are hired for short term contracts or work as temps or consultants. These latter differ from permanent employees in that the company where they work is not their employer, but they may work through a temp-agency or consulting firm. In this respect, it is important to distinguish independent contractors from employees, since the two are treated differently both in law and in most taxation systems.
Some companies feel that a happier work force is a better one and thus offer extra benefits to improve team spirit and performance. However, other employers try to increase profits by giving low wages and few benefits. To resist this, employees can organize into labor unions (American English), or trade unions (British English), who represent most of the available work force and must therefore be listened to by the management. This can lead to considerable ill-will and sometimes even violence between the two sides, but it can also lead to a peaceful and prosperous society, especially in countries in which the government plays an active mediator role in collective bargaining. This has helped produce prosperous economies in many countries due to the employees' increased spending power. Collective bargaining has in addition proved to be a powerful conflict resolution tool that has also enabled social dialog.
Associate is a term used by some companies instead of employee. Big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot, for example, use this term for non-management employees. Other firms use terms such as teammate or team member instead of employee.
Many companies further classify employees as exempt or non-exempt. This designation is used to separate employees that are eligible for overtime from those that are not. An exempt employee is one that is typically salaried and is not eligible to earn overtime. Non-exempt employees are typically paid hourly and are eligible for overtime pay.
When an individual entirely owns the business for which he or she labours, this is known as self-employment. If a self-employed individual has only one client for whom he or she performs work, he or she may be considered an employee of that client for tax purposes. Self-employment often leads to incorporation. Incorporation offers certain protections of one's personal assets. Laws of incorporation vary from state to state with California having the most incorporated businesses of any state in the U.S.
Workers who are not paid wages, such as volunteers, are generally not considered as being employed. One exception to this is an internship, an employment situation in which the worker receives training or experience (and possibly college credit) as the chief form of compensation.
Someone who works under obligation for the purpose of fulfilling a debt without pay is known as a slave and slaveowners are also not considered employers. Some historians suggest that slavery is older than employment, but both arrangements have existed for all recorded history.