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.
Employment also exists in the public, non-profit and household sectors.
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.
To the extent that employment or the economic equivalent is not universal, unemployment exists.
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 Surrealists and the Situationists 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.