What Is Employment?

Definition & Examples of Employment

Woman shaking hands with an employer.
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Employment is a paid work agreement between an employer and an employee. The employer typically controls what the employee does and where the employee works.

Learn more about employment and what it means.

What Is Employment?

Employment is an agreement between an employer and an employee that the employee will provide certain services. In return, the employee is paid a salary or hourly wage. Although employees can negotiate certain items in an employment agreement, the terms and conditions are primarily determined by the employer. Both parties may also terminate the agreement.

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.

How Employment Works

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 specific 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
  • A set schedule that requires employees to work a 40-hour week with an hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon⁠, as required by state law

As long as the employer upholds their agreement to pay the employee⁠—and pay on time⁠—and the employee wishes to continue working for the employer, the employment typically continues.

Much of the employment relationship between an employer and employee is governed by the employer's needs, profitability, and management philosophy. The employment relationship is also driven by the availability of employees and their expectations.

Federal and state laws also direct the employment relationship and decrease employer autonomy as a way to avoid abuse of power. Employment laws change from time to time, so employers need to stay informed of current federal and state government regulations.

Federal, state, and local government entities such as the Department of Labor are also available to employees. These organizations are tasked with tracking job statistics and can assist employees in disputes with their employers.


Most states have at-will employment, which means that employment ends at the prerogative of the employer or the employee. Employers may terminate employment at any time for any reason, and employees may resign for any reason.

Requirements for Employment

Employers withhold federal and state taxes and pay Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment taxes on the salary and wages they pay employees. This is one of the factors that sets employment apart from working with an independent contractor.

Employment also allows employees to control more aspects of an employee's job, including work location, resources, responsibilities, hours, and wages. Employee input, autonomy, and self-directedness varies significantly depending on the employer. Some allow significant autonomy in how employees work while others dictate how an employee spends every minute; both scenarios are employment.

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 even give notice.

Employers are not allowed to discriminate based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex (including pregnancy), gender identity, sexual orientation, national orientation, age, disability, or genetic information. Employees have the right to file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or their local agency that enforces equal employment laws.

In these and other complex situations, it's advisable to find an employment law attorney or seek assistance from their state's department of labor (DOL) or equivalent. If the workplace is unionized, an employee may also want to discuss their grievances with union representatives.

Key Takeaways

  • Employment is a paid work agreement between an employer and an employee.
  • An employment agreement for an individual employee can be a verbal exchange, written email, or job offer letter.
  • Employment agreements vary and may involve different time commitments and compensation plans.
  • Federal, state, and local laws also impact employment. 
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  1. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "Filing a Charge of Discrimination." Accessed July 11, 2020.

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