8 Federal Employment Laws to Keep Top of Mind

Here’s a list of 8 federal employment laws that employers should consider to know their legal obligations.

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8 Federal Employment Laws to Keep Top of Mind

Here's what you need to know:

  • There are many laws and regulations for employers to keep up with and implement
  • The 8 federal employment laws listed in this article are some of the most common ones
  • Employers must also consider other federal employment laws plus state and local employment laws

Staying on top of employment laws is a constant challenge for employers. Regardless of the employer’s size, there are so many regulations to interpret, implement, and keep up with. New employers, especially, may have a hard time figuring out their legal obligations.

With that in mind, we prepared a list of 8 federal employment laws that employers should consider. They include:

  1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
  2. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  3. Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act)
  4. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  5. Equal Pay Act (EPA)
  6. National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)
  7. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  8. Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees on the basis of the following protected classes:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Sex, including gender identity, pregnancy, and sexual orientation
  • Religion

Title VII applies to employment decisions made in these areas (and more):

  • Recruitment
  • Selection
  • Hiring
  • Employee benefits
  • Training
  • Assigning work
  • Measuring performance
  • Promotions
  • Job transfers
  • Employee discipline
  • Terminations

Private sector employers with 15 or more employees must comply with Title VII, which is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

If an employee believes their employer violated their Title VII rights, they can file a claim with the EEOC or a lawsuit in court. If proven guilty, the employer can be liable for back wages, attorney fees, compensatory damages, and punitive damages.

2. Fair Labor Standards Act

The FLSA governs:

  • Minimum wage
  • Overtime
  • Record keeping
  • Child labor

This short list is deceptively simple, because in practice, the FLSA is oftentimes complex. Employers subject to the FLSA must adhere to rules surrounding:

  • Hours worked
  • Meal and break periods
  • Minimum wage for nonexempt employees
  • Overtime for nonexempt employees
  • Minimum wage and overtime for tipped employees
  • Classification of overtime-exempt employees
  • Salary deductions for exempt employees
  • Paycheck deductions for nonexempt employees
  • Posting requirements
  • Record keeping for nonexempt and exempt employees
  • Employment of minors under the age of 18

Most private sector employers must follow the Fair Labor Standards Act, which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

In practice, the FLSA is oftentimes complex.

Employers who violate the FLSA can face penalties. Those may include back wages, liquidated damages, civil money penalties, and criminal prosecution.

3. Occupational Safety and Health Act

The OSH Act requires applicable employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful working conditions.

Employees covered by the OSH Act have the right to:

  • Health and safety training in language they can understand
  • Operate machines (if required) that are safe to use
  • Safety equipment (if required), such as gloves or harnesses
  • Protection from toxic chemicals
  • Request an inspection of their employer’s workplace
  • Report a workplace injury or illness
  • Review records of job-related injuries and illnesses

Most private sector employers must comply with the OSH Act, which is enforced by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

OSHA is responsible for developing minimum safety standards for covered employers. The agency has record keeping, posting, and reporting requirements, as well. OSHA may also impose citations, civil money penalties, and criminal penalties on non-compliant employers.

4. Americans with Disabilities Act

Title 1 of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against people with disabilities. Moreover, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities so that they can perform their essential job functions.

ADA-covered employers must not discriminate against qualified people with disabilities in these (and other) areas of employment:

  • Job application
  • Hiring
  • Compensation
  • Job training
  • Job advancement
  • Termination

The ADA defines what constitutes:

  • An individual with a disability
  • Reasonable accommodations
  • Essential job functions
  • Undue hardship (for employers who cannot afford to make reasonable accommodations)
  • Interactive process between the employer and the employee
  • Prohibited medical inquiries
  • Record keeping and posting rules

Private sector employers with 15 or more employees must follow Title I of the ADA, which is enforced by the EEOC.

Employees who believe their ADA rights have been violated can file a claim with the EEOC if the offense happened on or after July 26, 1992. Otherwise, the employee may be able to file a lawsuit against their employer in court.

5. Equal Pay Act

The EPA forbids pay discrimination on the basis of sex. It states that men and women must receive equal pay for equal work performed in the same organization. While the jobs do not need to be exactly the same, they must be substantially similar.

All forms of compensation are covered by the EPA, including:

  • Salary
  • Hourly wages
  • Overtime pay
  • Bonuses
  • Vacation pay
  • Holiday pay
  • Stock options
  • Profit-sharing plans
  • Employee benefits

Virtually all private sector employers must comply with the EPA, which is enforced by the EEOC.

Employees who believe their EPA rights have been violated can file a claim with the EEOC or a lawsuit in court. Employers can face civil money penalties and criminal prosecution for violating employees’ EPA rights.

Note that pay discrimination is also unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Therefore, if an employee has an EPA claim, they may have a Title VII claim as well.

6. National Labor Relations Act

The NLRA permits employees to join together and participate in protected concerted activities to improve their pay and working conditions.

Examples of protected concerted activities include:

  • Two or more employees speaking to their employer about improving their wages
  • Two or more employees discussing work-related concerns (beyond wages) with each other — such as safety issues
  • One employee talking to their employer on behalf of other employees regarding improving their working conditions

Additionally, employees have the right to:

  • Form (or try to form) a union in their workplace, regardless of whether their employer acknowledges the union
  • Aid the union in organizing their fellow employees
  • Refuse to participate in any of the above 2 actions

Most private sector employers must adhere to the NLRA, which is enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

As of this writing, the NLRA does not have civil money penalties for employers who violate employees’ NLRA rights. However, the agency can impose an injunction on noncompliant employers. They can also order the employer to rehire a wrongfully terminated employee and pay them back wages and benefits.

7. Family and Medical Leave Act

The FMLA requires covered employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees in a 12-month period.

Qualifying reasons for taking FMLA leave include:

  • Childbirth, adoption of a child, and foster-care placement of a child
  • The employee’s own serious health condition
  • The employee’s spouse’s, child’s, or parent’s serious health condition

To take FMLA leave, the employee must have:

  • A qualifying reason
  • Worked for their FMLA-covered employer for at least 12 months
  • Worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding the start of the leave
  • Work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles

There’s much more to the FMLA, including leave provisions for service members, medical certifications, intermittent leave schedule, and employee notices.

The FMLA applies to private sector employers who hire 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or previous year. It is enforced by the DOL.

Depending on the severity of the offense, the employer may be ordered to pay back wages, front pay, liquidated damages, and court fees.

Employees who believe their FMLA rights have been violated can file a claim with the DOL. If the DOL cannot satisfactorily resolve the claim, it may pursue court action to force the employer to comply with the FMLA. Depending on the severity of the offense, the employer may be ordered to pay back wages, front pay, liquidated damages, and court fees.

8. Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The ADEA prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees who are 40 or older, based on their age.  All facets of employment are covered, including:

  • Hiring
  • Pay
  • Benefits
  • Training
  • Job assignments
  • Promotions
  • Terminations, including layoffs

The ADEA applies to private sector employers with 20 or more employees, and is enforced by the EEOC.

Employees who believe their ADEA rights have been violated can file a claim with the EEOC. If the EEOC decides not to pursue an employee’s claim, they will issue a “right-to-sue” letter to the employee, who can then file a lawsuit in court.

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Keep other employment laws in mind

The 8 federal employment laws listed in this article are just some of the most common ones. Employers must consider other federal employment laws plus state and local employment laws.

To ensure accurate interpretation of employment laws, consult with your legal team. And to correctly administer applicable employment laws, it’s a good idea to use an HR platform that facilitates compliance management.

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