How to Comply With Employment Laws: 6 Key Areas for Your Next HR Audit

It takes a lot more today to comply with the complex web of federal, state, and local employment laws than writing a policy and dropping it into an employee handbook. Human resources (HR) professionals need to constantly stay aware of the changes in the law, as well as run a regular audit to check their compliance so they can help protect their company.

Here’s an HR Compliance checklist consisting of six key areas that HR professionals should understand and regularly monitor to ensure that their companies don’t run afoul of the law.


1. Anti-Discrimination laws

The goal of federal and state anti-discrimination laws is to prohibit discrimination in employment based on “protected categories,” such as sex, race, age, disability status, and military status. Various federal laws set up these protected categories.

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This law prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin, and religion in companies with 15 or more employees. Note that the law considers sexual harassment a form of sex discrimination.
  • The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA provides protections from discrimination to employees who have disabilities, who have a record of being disabled, who are regarded as being disabled, or who are associated with a disabled individual, so long as they work for a company that employs 15 or more employees. An employee who qualifies as disabled under the law is entitled to a reasonable accommodation to allow them to perform work.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): This law protects workers from discrimination if they are at least 40 years old and work for an employer with at least 20 employees.
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA): This law prohibits employers with at least 15 employees from using genetic information to make employment decisions.
  • The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA): Active and former military personnel are protected from discrimination by this law, which applies to all employers, regardless of size. The law also offers currently serving individuals job protection.

2. Wage and hour laws

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law that sets the minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour), establishes overtime pay, sets the maximum number of hours employees can work, creates child labor rules, and mandates break for meals and rest. Some states have imposed additional requirements on top of these rules. For example, states and localities may have their own rules for minimum wage or for certain industries, such as tip credit maximums for servers in the hospitality industry.

3. Benefits, including family and medical leave

Many federal laws govern the provision of benefits to workers. When it comes to ensuring compliance, one of the trickiest laws is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA, which applies to all employers with 50 or more employees (within a 75-mile radius) and all public agencies, including public schools, allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of themselves or a family member in the event of a significant medical event. The events covered include a serious health condition, the birth of a child, the adoption of a child or a foster care placement, and the need to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition. To qualify for leave, the employee must have worked at least 12 months for the employer and at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.

Note that companies also have to protect the privacy of their employees’ protected health information under federal laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and possibly under certain state laws.

4. Immigration laws

Employers must hire only people who are eligible to work in the United States. One way the government monitors work eligibility is through Form I-9. All employees must complete this form and provide documentation showing their identity and authorization to work. Employers must ensure the provided documents are genuine and are included on the list of acceptable documents, and then record their information on the form.

5. Workplace safety laws

Federal law requires employers to maintain a safe work environment for their employees. The Occupational Health and Safety Act has many complex regulations that require companies to warn employees about specific hazards, wear personal protective equipment to safeguard against dangers, and train employees on safety, among many other obligations. Companies must also log all work-related injuries and illnesses and report serious injuries and fatalities to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promptly. States that have their own OSHA plans may have additional requirements.

6. Union laws

Not all organizations are unionized, but that doesn’t mean that the National Labor Relations Act doesn’t apply. Employees, regardless of whether they are union members, have the right to engage in “protected concerted activity,” which means they are allowed to collaborate in an effort to improve their working conditions. Some employers have faced lawsuits when they have attempted to prevent employees from discussing their work conditions on social media.

Next steps

Keep in mind that the federal laws described above merely set a floor for HR compliance and employee compliance; check to see whether your state and locality have laws and regulations that may impose additional requirements.

Many of these laws are covered in the posters that your company is required to display in the workplace. Staying on top of the applicable employment laws—and the posters that explain them—can help your organization avoid lawsuits, limit government investigations, reduce the chance of costly penalties, and protect your company’s reputation. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you comply with your workplace poster obligations.