What Is Employment?

Take a Closer Look at What It Means to Be Employed

Workers in line
••• Getty Images/John Lamb

Employment is a paid work agreement between an employer and employee. The term applies to a person who is hired for a salary or fee to perform work for an employer. Although employees can negotiate certain items in an employment agreement, the terms and conditions are largely determined by the employer. This agreement may also be terminated by the employer or the employee.

Definition of Employment

Employment is an agreement between an employer and an employee that the employee will provide certain services on a job. The employment agreement ensures that:

  • The work will occur in the employer's designated workplace, which can be from a telecommuter's home.
  • The work is designed to accomplish the employer organization’s goals and mission.
  • In exchange for work performed, the employee receives compensation.

An employment agreement for an individual employee can be a verbal exchange, written email, or job offer letter. The offer of employment can be implied in an interview or written in a formal, official employment contract.

Time and Compensation of Employment

Employment agreements vary, as they may involve different time commitments and compensation plans.

For example, employment can be:

  • An hourly part-time job that is paid a certain dollar amount for each hour worked
  • Full-time employment in which individuals receive a salary and benefits from an employer for performing the tasks required by a particular position
  • For a short period of time or it can last 30-40 years with the same employer.
  • On a flexible employee work schedule or require the employee to work a 40-hour week with an hour for lunch and two 20-minute breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon⁠—as required by law.

As long as the employer upholds their agreement to pay the employee⁠—and pay on time⁠—and the employee wishing to continue working for the employer, the employment relationship will continue.

Employment ends at the prerogative of the employer or the employee. Especially in locations that are right-to-work at-will states, employers may terminate employment or employees may resign for any reason.

Negotiation of Employment Agreement

Although the employee may have some opportunity to negotiate, the terms and conditions of employment are largely set by the employer. Employees can negotiate certain terms of a contract, such as a higher compensation or additional days off, but the location, work hours, work environment, and even the company culture are set by the employer.

The best time to negotiate an agreement is before accepting a job offer if options such as a flexible work schedule are desired.

Work and Workplace Environment

It is the employer's responsibility to create positions to meet company objectives. The employer, therefore, determines all aspects of an employee's job, such as work location, resources, responsibilities, hours, and wages. In addition, the degree of input, autonomy, and self-directedness that an employee experiences on the job are a by-product of an employer’s philosophy of management and employment.

Workplace cultures range from authoritarian with a strongly centralized chain of command to employee-centric environments in which employees have input and make decisions. Each person who wants to secure a long-lasting job needs to find an environment that gives them autonomy, empowerment, and satisfaction.

If an employee has a disagreement with an employer in the private sector, the employee has several options. They can bring the issue to their manager, go to human resources, talk to upper management, or give notice. However, think carefully before choosing one of these options. In a professional, impersonal manner, consider how to resolve the disagreement to ensure a positive outcome.

In particularly unpleasant situations, the employee may seek help from an employee-side employment law attorney or from their state Department of Labor (DOL) or equivalent. But, there is no guarantee the disgruntled employee's point of view will prevail in a lawsuit.

In the public sector, a union-negotiated contract may enhance the opportunity of the employee to negotiate their desired changes.

Government Role in Employment

In the United States, much of the employment relationship between an employer and employee is governed by the needs, profitability, and management philosophy of the employer. The employment relationship is also driven by the availability of employees in the marketplace (i.e., less available talent, more negotiating power for the employee) and the expectations of employees about their employers of choice.

However, increasingly, federal and state laws are enacted that direct the employment relationship and decrease the autonomy of employers—as a way to avoid abuse of power. It is important for employers to stay informed of current federal and state government regulations.

Government entities such as the DOL at both the federal and state levels are also available to employees. These organizations are tasked with tracking job statistics and can assist employees in disputes with their employers.