In the modern workplace, organizational operations—such as human resources (HR)—are impacted by laws and regulations, meaning that HR professionals must have an understanding of the laws that drive their day-to-day tasks and the overall health of the organization. HR law, sometimes called employment law, is an area of law that focuses specifically on the workplace and workers. The aim of these laws and regulations is to promote fair and equal treatment of a company’s employees.
Here, we will explore the laws and regulations that shape HR law and what can happen if a company falls out of compliance.
HR Laws Professionals Need to Know
HR professionals are responsible for a variety of areas related to managing employees and their rights, as well as ensuring that the organization is meeting its commitments to the employees. There are a variety of roles that meet these aims, meaning not all HR professionals will focus on all areas of HR. Some may be in a more specialized role that focuses on wages and benefits, while others will hone in employee development. HR generalists may cover every aspect of this operational area.
No matter the HR role, it is crucial that HR professionals understand how to keep their organization in compliance with HR laws. Should an organization violate a law, or overlook a new regulation, it may suffer any number of negative consequences, including financial loss, lawsuits, irreparable damage to its reputation, and more.
To prevent these negative outcomes, HR professionals should be aware of the following areas of HR law and understand how they should be applied when facing common issues in the workplace.
In the U.S., the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor sets the regulations around wage and hour laws. The mission of this division is to promote labor standards that protect the welfare of the country’s workforce.1 The Wage and Hour Division is the body that ensures workers are paid properly for the time that they work. Two laws HR professionals need to be aware of around wage and hour laws are the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The FLSA sets the Federal minimum wage, establishes the 40-hour work week as we know it, and sets standards around overtime pay, record keeping, and youth employment.2 These regulations affect employees who work in private and public sectors.
The FMLA applies to eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons. This leave allows the employee to retain their group health insurance coverage as if they were still at work. Eligible employees are covered for twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for situations like the birth of a child, the adoption of a child, to care for a family member suffering a serious health condition, and more.3
Benefit laws are in place to ensure employees have access to their benefits. There are several prominent laws to be aware of in this area of human resources.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted in March 2010 with the goal of increasing access to affordable healthcare, especially for those living in poverty.4 The ACA impacted employers, requiring them to meet certain standards of health care coverage for their employees. Another health-related law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), protects workers and their families from being discriminated against by employers for certain health conditions or life changes.5
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) ensures that eligible employees have the opportunity to access their current health insurance for a certain amount of time when leaving a position.6 And for companies that offer pension programs, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) outlines minimum standards that must be met for retirement and health plans.7
Workplace Safety Laws
Laws and regulations around safety in the workplace are overseen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which was established by Congress after the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 passed. OSHA’s role is to ensure safe and healthy working conditions via standards and training, outreach, education, and assistance.8
The U.S. Department of Labor also has an Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) that administers disability compensation programs to federal workers and dependents and other groups who are injured at work.9 These programs provide eligible workers with replacement benefits, medical treatment, and vocational rehabilitation, among other benefits.
Workplace Discrimination Laws
There are a number of workplace discrimination laws that ensure equal opportunities for all and to protect certain identified classes from discrimination. These include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
All of these are Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the body responsible for enforcing these laws, which work to prevent discrimination against applicants and employees due to race, skin color, religion, sex, nationality, age, disability, or genetic information.10 It is important that HR professionals know that these laws apply to all cycles of employment, from hiring to firing, as well as all aspects of employment such as wages and benefits, promotions, and more.
Immigrations laws go hand in hand with anti-discrimination laws. HR professionals must ensure that any international employees being hired are eligible to work in the U.S. while following EEO laws. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), enacted in 1952, is something HR professionals need to be aware of as it relates to employment law.
INA prohibits employers from discriminating based on national origin, whether against U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or authorized aliens, including permanent or temporary residents or refugees and asylum seekers.11
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The law influences almost every professional decision for employees working in HR. Pitt Law’s Online Master of Studies in Law (MSL) program is here to help those without a JD degree learn what they need to get ahead. Set yourself apart as a leader in HR with in-demand legal knowledge and skills. Small class sizes and individualized attention will set you up for success during your master’s program and after graduation. Completing the Human Resources Law specialization enables you to be eligible to sit for the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) exams within one year of graduation.
As you prepare to apply for Pitt Law’s Online Master of Studies in Law (MSL) program or one of our graduate certificate programs (also offered online), know that our admissions advisors are always on standby to answer your questions, clarify admissions requirements, and review the list of materials we need from you. Schedule a call today.
- Retrieved March 8, 2022, from dol.gov/agencies/whd/workers
- Retrieved March 8, 2022, from dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa
- Retrieved March 8, 2022, from dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla
- Retrieved March 8, 2022, from healthcare.gov/glossary/affordable-care-act/
- Retrieved March 8, 2022, from dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/EBSA/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/faqs/hipaa-consumer.pdf
- Retrieved March 8, 2022, from dol.gov/general/topic/health-plans/cobra
- Retrieved March 8, 2022, from dol.gov/general/topic/retirement/erisa
- Retrieved March 8, 2022, from osha.gov/aboutosha
- Retrieved March 8, 2022, from dol.gov/general/topic/workcomp
- Retrieved March 8, 2022, from eeoc.gov/overview
- Retrieved March 8, 2022, from dol.gov/general/topic/discrimination/immdisc