What Are Some of the Legal Issues in Human Resources?

By Marianne Chrisos - Published on February 15, 2019
Legal issues in human resources

HR is bigger than just hiring and payroll – the main responsibilities of HR include protecting the employees and the employer. Protection occurs in a number of ways, including those that intersect with traditional HR responsibilities like managing benefits and practicing ethical and legal hiring and management practices. The legal issues in human resources can span many areas, however.

Here are the most important human resource management laws and regulations.

1. Confidentiality: HR professionals will often come into contact with sensitive information, such as social security numbers, home addresses, marital status, and even sometimes medical information through FMLA requests. HR has a responsibility, then, to ensure confidentiality and discretion when managing all paperwork and records.

2. Background checks: Some businesses have a legal requirement to run background checks on people before hiring to ensure that they don’t have a criminal record or simply to confirm the information from their application is legitimate. Some company’s use background checks to ensure compliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act. This is one way that HR works to protect the company’s interest – by trying to reduce their risk and liability.

3. Discrimination and favoritism: HR groups are legally obligated to practice certain screenings when recruiting new hires – many US laws mandate certain labor laws, including not practicing discrimination against people for age, sex, race, veteran or disability status. It’s important that HR professionals are aware of labor laws and are using good judgement when screening applications. It’s also important that HR is aware of discriminatory behavior at the management level after someone is hired. Candidates can’t be fired for the same reason they can’t be overlooked as a hire – someone’s gender or health is not a valid reason for terminating employment, and it is HR’s legal responsibility to ensure that management practices are fair. HR should also offer management training to educate managers, especially new managers, in how to interact with employees as a supervisory level. This can help to decrease issues of favoritism and protect the business’s interest.

4. Harassment: Another one of the important legal issues in human resources is preventing harassment. It’s important to have a harassment policy in place and ensure that it’s readily available to all employees, as well as make sure it’s part of all new employee onboarding training. Companies should also mandate regular training for managers. Finally, if a harassment complaint comes up, it’s HRs job to handle the process, so HR managers need to be trained in how to conduct a fair, impartial, and thorough investigation.

5. Safety: Employers are required to provide employees a safe workplace. HR’s support of this protects both the employee physically, and the employer legally. The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that employers follow mandatory minimum health and safety standards.

6. Equal pay: One important pay-related mandate is that employees must be paid equally for equal work. If there is a younger person and an older person with the same job title responsible for the same duties, the rate of pay needs to be the same. If a man and a woman are performing the same day to day work and have the same job title, the company must ensure that their salaries are the same.

7. Other payroll issues: Employers are legally obligated to pay their employers a minimum wage per hour and also account for overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40. Keeping accurate exemption employee records (to account for salary vs. hourly employees, for instance) is essential in complying with compensation laws.

The legal aspects of human resource management can be complex, and this list is not exhaustive. It does, whoever, highlight the myriad of ways that legal issues in human resources can present themselves.

Marianne Chrisos | Born in Salem, Massachusetts, growing up outside of Chicago, Illinois, and currently living near Dallas, Texas, Marianne is a content writer at a company near Dallas and contributing writer around the internet. She earned her master's degree in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University in Chicago and has worked in publishing, advertising, digital marketing, and content strategy.

Marianne Chrisos | Born in Salem, Massachusetts, growing up outside of Chicago, Illinois, and currently living near Dallas, Texas, Marianne is a content writer at a c...

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