Federal & State Laws Governing HR Policies

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Federal and state laws do far more than govern human resources policies; they protect the rights of employees and set out employers' obligations. Implementing HR policies requires a survey of federal and state employment laws related to anti-discrimination, concerted activity, safety, compensation and benefits. In addition, there are local and municipal laws that govern employment practices.


Two separate federal laws govern HR policies on wages. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 contains provisions for minimum wage, overtime pay, exempt and nonexempt employee classification and record keeping. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour; however, many states have minimum wage standards that are higher than the federal law. When the federal and state minimum wage laws differ, employers must pay the higher of the two. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits wage discrimination based on sex, as in paying lower wages to women in male-dominated occupations. HR policies might include periodic evaluation of jobs to determine what constitutes comparable work for the company's compensation structure.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal laws that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces govern HR policies related to recruiting and interviewing candidates and hiring, training and retaining employees. Federal laws prohibit discriminatory HR policies, such as denying equal employment opportunities based on disability, race, sex, national origin and religion. State laws often mirror the federal laws; however, many states and municipalities prohibit discrimination based on other factors, such as sexual orientation. As of December 2012, 20 states plus the District of Columbia prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.


The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is a federal law that requires employers to provide a safe work environment. Therefore, HR develops training on workplace safety topics, such as operating complex machinery, handling hazardous materials, ergonomics and blood borne pathogens. In addition, HR policies for tracking workplace injuries and fatalities are based on OSHA regulations. HR policies concerning workers compensation often fall within the purview of the company's safety specialist for improving working conditions to reduce accidents.


There are no federal or state laws that mandate benefits, such as holiday and vacation pay. However, federal laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious medical conditions of their own or of family members. The key to this benefit is that it's job-protected leave, which means employers must restore an employee returning from FMLA leave to her original job or one with equivalent pay, benefits and working conditions. Tax laws require HR policies for processing payroll accurately to ensure retirement benefits, such as Social Security and Medicare. It's imperative that HR stays abreast of federal and state laws, particularly those subject to change regularly, such as tax regulations.

Concerted Activity

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 protects union and nonunion employees' rights to engage in concerted activity. The act also contains employers' and labor unions' obligations regarding collective bargaining and arbitration. HR policies concerning employee relations and labor relations must follow the strict guidelines of the act. Employers and labor unions are prohibited from interfering with employees' rights to union representation and are required to engage in collective bargaining. In addition to HR policies based on labor laws such as the NLRA, HR provides training to supervisors on protected activities, employee discipline, grievances and contract interpretation.

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