Employment law is the umbrella term that is used to describe a broad range of legal issues associated with employees, employers, and safety conditions in the workplace. An example of this would be some employment laws may apply to a case that involves employment discrimination. In contrast, other employment laws can guide the drafting of company policies and employee handbooks.
Employment laws are largely intended to protect all of those who are a part of the workforce. This includes, but may not be limited to:
- Establishing legal protection for employees who are in disputes against a colleague, an employer, or a company;
- Ensuring that businesses do not discriminate against prospective job candidates or current employees in the interviewing, hiring, promoting, and/or terminating process;
- Providing specific legal rights to individuals who are self-employed or who are considered to be independent contractors; and
- Ensuring that volunteers and interns do not suffer from sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation while in the workplace.
It is important to note that employment laws can vary considerably by jurisdiction. This means that the employment rights provided and protected by one state may not be available as protection under the laws of another state. Additionally, some issues may be governed by both state and federal employment laws, such as pregnancy leave.
What Are My Legal Rights As An Employee?
Some board examples of your legal rights as an employee include:
- The right to privacy;
- The right to be free from discrimination; and
- The right to fair compensation. If an employment law details a right, it will most likely apply and can be used to protect an employee.
Many of the rights provided by employment laws are associated with the well-being and safety of employment conditions in the workplace. An example of this would be how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) is responsible for enforcing laws and policies which protect employees from dangerous conditions and unsafe work environments.
If an employer refuses to repair equipment or a building in which employees must work, which then develops into an issue that exposes their employees to toxic chemicals, an employee whose health has been affected by the chemicals can submit a complaint to OSHA. OSHA will investigate the complaint and determine whether to issue sanctions against the employer.
An employment contract can also provide employees with other rights not addressed by employment law. An example of this would be rights associated with the use of company property.
What Issues Are Addressed By Human Resources?
Human Resources, or “HR,” refers to the department in an organization that manages personnel matters. These matters include, but may not be limited to:
- Benefits; and
Depending on the size and purpose of the business or company, an HR department may be composed of just a few individuals, or it may require the efforts of several different specialists.
Human resources departments are essential in ensuring efficient operations in any organization. An example of this is how disputes between employees or an employer and employee are most commonly resolved through HR. Although the term “human resources” technically describes the employed workforce in general, the term is most commonly used to refer to a company’s specific human resources department.
Human resources departments often address many employment disputes resulting in legal claims. These may involve every step of the employment process, from hiring up until termination. Examples of some of these legal issues include:
- Equal Employment Opportunities;
- Classifications of employees;
- Compensation, including wage rates, paydays, and raises or deductions;
- Overtime policies;
- Meal and break periods;
- Employee benefits;
- Vacation and holiday standards;
- Personal leave and sick days;
- Evaluation of performance; and
- Termination, severance, and retirement packages
The vast majority of workplace disputes are resolved through human resources cooperation with various state or federal agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”). This is mainly because most companies require their employees to “exhaust all administrative remedies” before they can pursue any legal action. However, if a government agency cannot resolve the situation, the dispute could quickly result in a civil lawsuit against the employer.
What Are Some Specific Laws Associated With Human Resources In The Workplace?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the basis of most federal anti-discrimination laws. While an entire network of federal and state laws exists to cover the duties of human resources, arguably the most important and extensive HR laws would be Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its related amendments. This act primarily addresses employment discrimination in that employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees or recruits because they belong to a protected class.
Protected classes include:
- National origin;
- Religious beliefs or lack thereof;
- Pregnancy; and
- Veteran status.
While these are federally protected classes, many states have their own anti-discrimination laws and policies that may provide more protections than the federal statutes. This means that state laws may protect more people based on:
- Gender Identity;
- Sexual Orientation;
- Political Ideology; and
- Service in a State Militia.
The human resources department of any business must ensure that they are adhering to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act Of 1964. Many of the decisions made by the human resources department are made according to whether the employee belongs to a protected class and what guidance the Act provides.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (“EPA”) requires equal pay for employees who perform equal work and prohibits wage discrimination based on sex. When evaluating equal work, the following factors are taken into consideration under the EPA:
- Comparable experience, training, education, and ability will be considered as required for a particular job;
- The level of physical and mental exertion required for the job;
- The amount of obligation and accountability required for the job; and
- Comparable environment and hazards presented by the job.
Human resources departments often deal extensively with these issues, as they are responsible for internal conflict resolution and equal or discriminatory pay issues arise frequently.
Some other important laws that regulate human resources practices include:
- Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970: This law defines safety and health standards in the workplace, as well as what should be done when those standards are violated;
- Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993: This act makes it illegal to fire an employee who takes leave for legitimate purposes, generally to care for a new child or because of medical reasons;
- Fair Labor Standards Act: This act addresses various restrictions on minimum wage, overtime rates, child labor standards; or
- Americans with Disabilities Act: This act regulates employer hiring standards for disabled applicants and defines what would constitute reasonable accommodation so that disabled employees can do their job to the best of their abilities.
These are federal regulations that apply in every state. However, as was previously mentioned, each state may have its own employment laws, which may be more strict than federal statutes.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Human Resources Laws?
You should contact an employment attorney for advice if you have concerns about your organization’s human resources department. Your lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options under your state’s specific employment laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, should legal action become necessary.