Human resources (HR) professionals should be well-versed in the area of HR law. An in-depth understanding of the laws that govern employer responsibilities and employee rights is integral to ensuring HR professionals are aptly fulfilling their primary duty of strategically counseling an organization within the bounds of these laws.
Some HR laws have stood the test of time, while others are ever-changing. It is important for HR professionals to keep up with these sometimes complex regulations and ensure they are being followed. If a company were to violate an HR law, it could lead to lawsuits, financial losses, and reputation damage.
An HR professional ensures a company is running smoothly without any ethical or legal issues that could create a hitch in daily operations and harm the work culture. This is where HR law comes in. Industry professionals should understand these laws to most effectively serve their organization.
Ready to brush up on some legal knowledge? We’re sharing a complete crash course on everything professionals need to know about HR laws and regulations, including the most important laws in the industry today, how to keep up with changing laws, and how a PEO can help counsel professionals on HR law.
Top 5 Fundamental HR Laws
Every workplace operates within the boundaries set by the following fundamental HR laws. They can be considered the most important human resources laws, setting the stage for a productive and healthy workplace.
1. Workplace Discrimination Laws
Discrimination in the workplace is one of the most important pieces of legislation for HR professionals to understand. Discrimination can be defined as being treated differently, or less favorably, based on race, color, religion, nationality, disability, age, sex, etc. Statistics indicate the most common discrimination charges relate to race and sex and usually include a retaliation claim for raising their concerns about harassment or discrimination.
Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws protect against discrimination in the workplace. These laws are applicable in all stages of an employee’s lifecycle, from pre-hiring processes through termination. Workplace discrimination laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and refer to situations such as:
- Unfair treatment based on the above
- Harassment based on the above
- Retaliation due to raising a complaint about discrimination
- Denial of reasonable workplace change due to religion or disability
- Improper questions or disclosure of genetic or medical information
Finally, an HR professional should be familiar with the individual laws that safeguard employees from discrimination, such as some of the most common:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
- Equal Pay Act (EPA)
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)
Staying informed on what is considered discrimination is the key to protecting both employees and the company.
2. Employee Benefits Laws
Employees of an organization are entitled to the benefits outlined by the company or PEO, which can include health insurance, 401K, and paid time off. Several laws exist to protect access to such benefits. These include:
- Affordable Care Act: Also known as “Obamacare,” this law increases access to affordable healthcare for those living below poverty levels.
- Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA): Any company offering pension plans must meet certain minimum standards.
- Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA): Requires insurance programs to provide eligible employees access to continued health insurance coverage after leaving the company.
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): Gives employees and their dependents protection from discrimination based on medical history and offers privacy from the release of personal medical records.
3. Wage and Hour Laws
Wage and hour laws are regulated by the U.S. Department of Labor and are mainly governed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to outline and protect the following:
- The federal minimum wage
- Requirements for overtime pay for nonexempt employees who work more than 40 hours in a single workweek
- Child labor regulations
4. Immigration Laws
Under immigration laws, employers should only hire candidates who are legally eligible to work in the U.S. This includes citizens, noncitizen nationals, lawful permanent residents, and individuals authorized to work. Such categories are outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Employers must also comply with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 which requires which requires employers to only hire individuals who are authorized to work in the United States and to use of I-9 forms to verify such employee eligibility. It is important for HR professionals to balance immigration laws with discrimination laws in the workplace as they determine this.
5. Workplace Safety Laws
An employer has an ethical responsibility to ensure the safety of its employees, as outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). This means creating a safe work environment so that workers can comfortably execute their job duties. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, is in charge of overseeing compliance of this regulation.
There are also workers’ compensation laws, which outline disability programs for employees injured on the job. Under individual state worker compensation laws, those who work for private companies or state governments are protected should they be injured.
State HR Law vs. Federal HR Law
HR professionals should also have a deep understanding of the HR laws in the state of their organization and how they differentiate from federal HR laws. Generally speaking, federal laws are a floor or minimum of what is required and state laws may have additional requirements or modifications that fit the specific needs of the state’s population.
For example, federal laws set floors on minimum wage. If a state has a lower minimum wage than the federal law, then employees in the state must be paid the higher federal minimum. Due to this, state law often provides greater protections than federal laws. Where both federal and state law are applicable some federal and state agencies, like the EEOC and state counterparts, have agreements where the state agency will hear and decide on the claim.
Stay Updated on All HR Law Topics
Although we highlighted the most important HR laws above, it is important for HR professionals to have a full understanding of the scope of regulations that govern the workplace. There are over 180 different federal laws that embody HR laws, plus their state counterparts, that may be applicable to certain situations that arise at an organization. These include important issues such as absenteeism and attendance, defamation, dress codes, drug testing, privacy, travel, union organizing, and much more.
Take some time to review a full list of HR law topics and become familiar with each. This list is constantly updated with the latest changes to HR laws and regulations, so you can always stay up-to-date.
How a PEO Can Help Professionals With HR law
One of the benefits of working with a professional employer organization (PEO) is that it can help ensure an organization is operating within the latest industry rules and regulations. They are skilled at keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of HR laws and will guide your business to promote compliance and avoid any disputes that may lead to legal issues.
Engage PEO offers HR services that are dedicated to helping organizations succeed and stay compliant with HR laws, so companies can focus on daily operations and revenue-producing initiatives.