Laws Affecting Human Resource Management

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Human resources practices regularly involve rights and activities protected by employment laws that confer employee rights and impose legal responsibilities on employers. Human resources professionals must know current federal, state and local employment laws that apply to their size and type of business in their geographic location. Common employee rights protected under employment laws include nondiscrimination and equal employment opportunity, freedom to join and form unions, minimum standards for terms and conditions of employment, and the right to privacy.

Nondiscrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity

Employees are protected from discrimination based on race, sex, and age by several areas of employment law. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution includes an Equal Protection Clause requiring states to extend equal protection under the law to all people within their states. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a major federal anti-discrimination statute that defines race, color, sex, religion and national origin as protected classes. State and local law may define additional protected classes. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act are more federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination and protect equal opportunity.

Freedom to Join and Form Unions

Employee rights to join and form unions are protected under the National Labor Relations Act, the Railway Labor Act and the Civil Service Reform Act enacted in the 1930s during the Great Depression. These statutes protect employees who wish to improve their working conditions through collective bargaining with employers. They also protect the rights of employees not to join a union.

Minimum Standards for Terms and Conditions of Employment

Some employment laws set minimum standards that employers must meet for pay, safety and employee leaves from work. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act sets minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, and some states also have minimum wage laws that differ from the federal law. The Occupational Safety and Health Act sets rules and regulations for workplace safety, and the Family and Medical Leave Act protects workers who must be away from work due to their own or a family member’s medical necessity.


While many aspects of the workplace and workday are not private, there are some privacy protections for employees at work. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act protects employee phone conversations from employer intrusion. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires employers to notify employees that they are seeking a credit report on them and to obtain their consent before doing so.

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