U.S. Government Employment Laws

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Equal Pay Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Fair Labor Standards Act
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act

Human resources professionals must balance numerous considerations in their day-to-day responsibilities, with federal employment laws being chief among them. The failure to follow federal workplace policies leads to costly litigation and negative publicity. What follows are laws that apply to virtually all employers, across all industries, which means that HR professionals cannot afford to ignore them.

1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

This law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers based on that individual’s gender, color, religion, race or national origin. Essentially, employment decisions cannot be made based on any of these factors. Hiring, firing, pay, promotion and fringe benefit decisions all are covered. If an employee’s personal characteristics have nothing to do with their job performance, then they should not be weighed when making employment decisions. It’s wise for HR professionals to ensure that their practices comply with Title VII.

2. Equal Pay Act

Sometimes referred to as the EPA, this legislation is aimed at ensuring equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. Job descriptions covered under the EPA need not be identical. Rather, it’s enough that they are substantially equal. The law applies to all forms of compensation. Determining compliance with the EPA is rarely easy as it requires the balance of factors like skill, effort, responsibility, working conditions and whether or not the jobs are within the same establishment.

3. Americans with Disabilities Act

Title I of this federal workplace law protects people with disabilities from workplace discrimination. Passed in 1990, the ADA is overseen by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. Individuals covered by the act must have a mental or physical impairment that limits major life activities. Nonetheless, if they can perform a job with reasonable accommodations, then they must be given equal consideration with their able-bodied counterparts. The consequences for failing to observe ADA standards can be severe, which makes this a vital law for HR professionals.

4. Fair Labor Standards Act

Sometimes referred to as the FLSA, this federal employment legislation ensures that covered workers receive at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked. It’s critical for HR professionals to be aware that many states have instituted minimum wages that are in excess of the federal standard. Accordingly, it is just as crucial for employers to observe these compensation guidelines. FLSA applies to overtime, and it also requires strict recordkeeping. Recommended practices suggest that employers always pay over the minimum wage and exercise care to provide correct compensation for overtime hours worked.

5. Occupational Safety and Health Act

U.S. government workplace policies that are instituted under the auspices of OSHA are designed to keep everyone safe. New HR professionals sometimes make the mistake of thinking that OSHA applies more to factories or other industrial settings. However, OSHA is just as much of a concern for office workers. When potential safety hazards come to light, it is vital that they be quickly corrected to ensure everyone’s well-being. Unsanitary conditions, excessive noise, exposure to toxic substances, stress from excess heat or cold and the dangers of mechanical equipment all are covered under the law.

Federal workplace policies are constantly evolving. Accordingly, it is sensible to remain aware of these changes, and for the professional to work toward ensuring a just employment environment for all members of the organization.