In many companies, the Human Resources (HR) department may not garner much respect. Perceptions about HR may include feelings that HR is useless or is staffed with rule-obsessed nitpickers. The reality is that HR performs a vital role in helping the employer ensure compliance with workplace regulations applicable to the business.
If you are a business owner or manager, it is important to understand that a well-run HR department can help avoid risk and possibly even prevent legal action from being taken against the business. If you are an employee, it is important to know that HR has certain obligations to you that it must also fulfill. So what, exactly, is HR responsible for?
Here's an overview of the major labor laws and responsibilities that HR professionals must understand in order to perform their duties properly.
Compliance with Hiring Regulations – The HR team should do everything possible to prevent violations of federal law during the hiring process, including at application, at the interview, and, when applicable, during testing. This requires thorough knowledge of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which forbids employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin. HR professionals should also be aware that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) bars discrimination against persons age forty or older. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits unfair treatment of disabled persons in the workplace.
What does all this mean for the HR department? Job postings that carry disclaimers such as “no one over forty need apply” or “special preference given to male applicants” could expose the company to serious liability and should be avoided. HR should also strive to keep inappropriate questions (e.g., medical history, plans to get married or get pregnant) out of the application and interview process.
Compliance with Employment Regulations – HR professionals should know how to properly classify employees and when employees are entitled to overtime pay. HR should know how many hours minors (under 18 years of age) can legally log on the job. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)includes answers to these questions and many others. All HR professionals should be familiar with the FLSA.
HR is usually responsible for handling complaints about employee relations (e.g., sexual or racial harassment) and ADA accommodation requests (e.g., a special keyboard or computer screen for a partially disabled employee). Familiarity with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules governing safe workplaces is also a must.
If an employee has to take an extended leave from the company to cope with serious medical issues or care of a seriously ill family member, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) outlines the rights and responsibilities of both the employer and the employee.
Compliance with Laws Governing Wages and Benefits – Another important law for HR professionals is The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which outlaws pay discrepancies for male and female employees who perform “substantially equal work.” The HR department should also ensure that employee benefits are administered in accordance with federal law. For example, the ADA generally forbids companies from refusing to provide disabled employees with the same kinds of health insurance benefits as non-disabled employees.
HR should also be able to assist departing employees in filing for a continuation of health benefits, if applicable, in accordance with the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).
The preceding is not a comprehensive survey of the legal responsibilities of a Human Resources department. If you have questions about HR compliance with any of the laws and duties mentioned here, it may be wise to reach out to experienced legal professionals. Barrett & Farahany, LLP, LLP., your employment lawyers in Atlanta, can be contacted by phone at (404) 238-7299.