Engineering and law may not seem to have much in common, but laws affect every profession in some way. Engineers deal with highly technical concepts, designs and products, and the laws affecting an engineer’s work can be as complex as the work itself. While engineers may be reluctant to devote time to a subject like the law, there are some laws that engineers should be familiar with in order to avoid problems during their careers.
Students in an online Master of Engineering Management degree program take a course in law as part of the program’s interdisciplinary business foundation. Managing engineers, because they are involved in the business side of the companies they work for, need to have a foundation in many business topics, including law.
Why Do Engineers Need to Study Law?
Engineers and engineering managers need to have a working knowledge of the laws that affect their work so that they can do the following:
- Follow regulations.
- Stay compliant with governmental ordinances.
- Know which permits are necessary in which circumstances.
- Protect their work.
- Know the boundaries of liability.
- Avoid lawsuits.
- Negotiate contracts.
- Know when to contact a lawyer.
Here are some of the types of laws that engineers and engineering managers should understand generally.
Engineering firms work with clients, and almost every project involves a contract. Contracts form the basis of an engineer’s work, and contracts are legally binding documents. Understanding the basics of contract law protects engineers’ rights and obligations, and it helps avoid potential lawsuits due to accidental breach of contract.
In engineering, laws about tort primarily deal with civil injuries resulting from negligence. Courts measure the damages resulting from these injuries in monetary amounts. Liability issues can be complex, but engineers should learn the basics to protect themselves and their companies.
Intellectual Property Laws
The term “intellectual property” is a broad classification, but engineers work with it on a daily basis. Patents, copyrights and proprietary designs all fall under intellectual property laws.
Engineers who do not understand patent law can end up infringing on someone else’s intellectual property rights or accidentally forfeiting their own. Companies often have their own policies regarding intellectual property, and engineers need to understand those policies and how they affect their own work.
Laws Affecting the Workplace
In addition to the laws engineers need to know, engineering managers may also need to understand the various laws regulating hiring and the workplace. National and state laws cover everything from hiring practices to workers’ compensation.
Health and safety laws can be especially important in the engineering field. There are also laws preventing discrimination in the workplace, laws governing medical leave and laws protecting workers’ rights.
Managers serve different functions in a company, so not all engineering managers need to know the details of all laws affecting the workplace. Those interested in an engineering management career, however, should be aware that these laws exist and can affect a manager’s day-to-day duties.
There are some law topics that engineers simply cannot ignore if they want to avoid potential legal troubles. For engineering and engineering management professionals, taking the time to learn what types of engineering laws can affect their careers — both positively and negatively — can only be beneficial in the long run.