Human Resources, often referred to as HR, refers to a department in an organization that manages personnel matters, including:

  • Hiring;
  • Compensation;
  • Training;
  • Disputes;
  • Benefits; and
  • Firing.

Depending on the size and/or purpose of the business and/or company, a human resources department may be staffed by a few individuals, or it may require several different specialists. Although the term human resources technically describes the employed workforce in general, the term human resources is used to refer to the human resources department of a company.

A human resource department plays an important role in ensuring any organization operates efficiently. For example, a dispute between employees and/or a dispute between an employer and an employee are typically resolved through the human resources department.

What Types of Legal Issues Does HR Usually Handle?

Human resources handles many different employment disputes that can lead to a legal claim. Human resources may be involved in every step of the employment process, from hiring to termination. Issues that human resources handles may involve:

  • Discrimination claims;
  • Equal Employment Opportunities;
  • Classification of employees;
  • Compensation issues, including:
    • wage rates;
    • pay days;
    • raises; and/or
    • deductions;
  • Overtime policies;
  • Meal and/or break periods;
  • Employee benefits;
  • Vacation and/or holiday standards;
  • Personal leave and/or sick days;
  • Evaluation of performance; and/or
  • Termination and/or retirement packages.

In many cases, workplace disputes are resolved through the cooperation of human resources with state and/or federal agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, a dispute can quickly lead to a lawsuit if a government agency is unable to resolve the issue.

What Types of California Laws Cover Human Resources?

There are several laws that apply to human resources in California. These include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963;
  • The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA);
  • The Fair Pay Act; and
  • The California Occupational Safety and Health Act – CAL/OSH Act.

There are many federal and state laws that govern the duties of human resources. However, one of the most important and extensive is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its related amendments. The law deals primarily with employment discrimination.

Pursuant to Title VII, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees and/or recruits based on certain protected categories, including:

  • Religion;
  • Race; and/or
  • National origin.

The human resources department must abide by anti-discriminatory policies when performing their duties.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires equal pay for employees who perform equal work. It also prohibits wage discrimination based on sex. Human resources departments often deal extensively with these issues.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee based on their status in a protected class in the terms and/or conditions of their employment. In addition, it provides protections for employees from harassment and/or retaliation from an employer should they report unlawful discrimination in the workplace. Protected characteristics under the FEHA include:

  • Race;
  • Religion;
  • Color;
  • National origin and ancestry;
  • Physical or mental disability;
  • Medical condition;
  • Genetic information;
  • Marital status;
  • Sex, including breastfeeding and related conditions;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender identity and gender expression;
  • Pregnancy, including childbirth and similar medical conditions;
  • Age; and
  • Military and/or veteran status.

The FEHA also prohibits an employer from asking questions on job applications that involve the applicant’s criminal conviction history. An employer may not inquire about this issue until the applicant has received a conditional job offer. This law is often the first step for employees in filing discrimination claims, which may lead to lawsuits.

The California Fair Pay Act prohibits wage discrimination based on sex, race, and/or ethnicity for employees engaged in materially similar work. If an employee makes a wage demonstration claim, the employer must demonstrate the difference in pay is based on a legitimate factor other than those prohibited factors. Legitimate factors can include:

  • Educational differences;
  • Additional training and/or experience;
  • A greater quality and/or quantity of work; and/or
  • Seniority.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Act (CAL/OSH Act) was approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). California employers are now subject to OSHA rules.

Pursuant to the CAL/OSH Act, an employer must provide and maintain a safe and healthy workplace for employees. Employers are required to draft written injury and illness prevention programs and safety plans.

Safety plans should include instructions on safe workplace practices. If a major injury, fatality, and/or serious illness occurs at the workplace, the CAL/OSHA office must be notified so that they may assist the worker and/or their family. Posters providing information on CAL/OSHA protections are available and may be posted at job sites so that workers are made aware of their basic rights and/or responsibilities under this law.

Other important laws that regulate human resources practices include:

How are Human Resources Violations Handled Under California Laws?

There are many areas of employment a human resources department must oversee. If the department makes an error, it could be costly for the company. Large and small companies alike are subject to laws and must ensure they are up to date on regulations.

In California, an employer must:

  • Provide an itemized check stub;
  • Pay overtime earned;
  • Check immigration statuses;
  • Provide break and meal times; and
  • Keep proper records.

There are 10 items that must be included on an itemized check stub. A violation of this requirement can cause a fine of up to $4,000 and court costs. These fines may add up quickly if multiple employees are affected.

If an employer does not pay for earned overtime, they may have to pay more than back pay. The employee may be eligible for an additional 30 days of back pay. An employer is required to pay an employee for any earned overtime on the day they are terminated or within 72 hours of the day the employee quits. If this does not occur, the employee is eligible for one full day’s pay for every day they are required to wait, up to 30 days.

All employers in California must ensure every employee is eligible to work in the United States. They must complete an I-9 form within 3 days of hiring the employee, unless the employee is a contracted worker. Employers who do not completely fill out I-9 filled out or who do not keep the forms on file for the required 3 years, they may face both civil and criminal charges. The penalties may include:

  • Up to $1,100 for each I-9 violation, including incomplete forms, failure to show forms to auditors, and/or failure to keep forms the proper length of time;
  • Fines up to $6,500 for knowingly falsifying an I-9 form;
  • Fines up to $16,000 for knowingly hiring undocumented workers and/or refusing to accept the types of identification listed as appropriate on the I-9 form; and/or
  • A prison term of up to 10 years.

Employers must provide employees with a 30 minute lunch break for every 5 hours worked. An employee must also be provided a 10 minute break for every 4 hours they are scheduled to work. If these breaks are not provided, an employer must compensate the employee at a rate of one hour for each break missed. If an employer does not keep a record of the mandatory meal breaks, they may face a $500 fine.

Failure to keep the proper paperwork is one of the most likely places an employer is to run into trouble. The human resources department must keep current on labor laws on both the federal and California state levels. If the proper paperwork is not maintained, the company may face fines as well as bearing the burden of proof should an employee bring charges of non-compliance with the labor laws.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I’m Facing Legal Issues Involving Human Resources?

Yes, if you are facing legal issues involving human resources, it is important to have the help of an experienced California lawyer. Human resources are involved in almost every aspect of an employment arrangement. If you have concerns about the human resources department at your workplace, you should contact an employment attorney.

Employment laws can be complex, especially since they often involve the overlap of federal and state laws. An attorney can review your case, advise you of your rights and responsibilities under the applicable laws, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. It is important to be aware of your rights whether you are an employee, an employer, and/or you work in a human resources department.