Federal laws and regulations govern the way people and businesses conduct themselves in the United States, and they are of particular importance in the corporate world. When it comes to matters related to recruitment, hiring, managing, and training employees, HR professionals, no matter the size of the organization, take the lead. When handling these activities, it is important for these professionals to have a knowledge of HR-related laws and regulations. It is the responsibility of HR professionals to ensure that employer’s policies and actions are in compliance with all laws and regulations, thus keeping the organization out of legal jeopardy. Before understanding the types of laws that apply to any organization, it is important to know the process that a bill goes through to become a law in the United States.
How Federal Laws Are Made
The United States Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government that is responsible for making the nation’s laws. It is made up of two legislative bodies that are also called chambers: the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Any person who is elected to either of these bodies is allowed to propose a new law. The proposal for a new law is referred to as a bill.
How a Bill Becomes Law
The process of lawmaking begins with a bill being introduced into either chamber of Congress by a senator or representative who sponsors the bill. After the bill has been introduced, it is assigned to a committee whose members will research, discuss, and make changes to the bill. They then vote to either accept or reject the bill and the changes before sending it to the floor for debate or to a subcommittee for further research. If it is sent to the House or Senate, the members of that chamber can now debate the bill and propose changes or amendments before voting on it. If the majority vote to pass the bill, it now moves to the other chamber where it will go through the same process.
When both chambers have agreed on the same version of the bill through a vote, they come together and sort out any inconsistencies between each of their versions. After this, the two bodies vote on the final version of the same bill. If the bill passes, it is presented to the President. The President reviews the bill and chooses to either approve it and sign it into law, veto the bill, pocket veto the bill (see “How Does A Bill Become A Law?” below), or choose no action. When the President chooses to veto a bill, Congress can override the President’s veto with a 2/3 vote of those present in both the House and Senate making the bill a law. On the other hand, if the President vetoes a bill after Congress has adjourned, then that veto cannot be overridden.
The Senate and the House have some procedural differences between them in making and passing a bill. When the bill is brought forth in the House of Representatives, then active legislation is in the House. If it originates in the Senate, then active legislation is in the Senate. (The United States Government, n.d.)
Federal laws apply to anyone living in the United States and its territories. When Congress creates and passes a bill, it is signed into law by the President. Federal courts may review the laws to ensure that they comply with the Constitution. If it is determined by the courts that they are not, they have the ability to strike them down.
State Laws and Regulations
State legislatures make the laws in each state. State courts can review these laws to determine if they comply with the Constitution. If they do not, the courts have the ability to declare the laws invalid (The United States Government, n.d.).
US Employment Laws and Regulations
Human Resources professionals perform advisory and recordkeeping services that require a solid knowledge of relevant employment laws (e.g., Wages and the Fair Labor Standards Act). Regulations are constantly changing, and how those regulations are interpreted by the courts may also change. It is important to not only keep a reference to these laws but to also stay apprised of any updates.
HR professionals can reference the number of employees working in their organization to identify which laws apply to their organization.
When You Have One or More Employees:
One thing that employers tend to forget sometimes is that once you hire your first employee, you become subject to a host of legal regulations. There are 53 laws that impact an employer who has one or more employees on the payroll. They include the Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968, the Employer Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, the Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA/Social Security) of 1935, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) of 2002, to name a few. Some state and local laws, such as paid sick leave or sexual harassment prevention training, may apply to businesses with one or more employees.
When You Have 15 or More Employees
When an employer adds 15 or more employees to the organization’s payroll then it becomes necessary to comply to additional federal laws. Some of these laws are: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 (EEOC.gov, n.d.).
When You Have 20 or More Employees
When an organization hires 20 or more employees, there are additional federal laws that dictate how the organization manages its employees. The additional laws are the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1986, and the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) of 1990.
When You Have 50 to 100 Employees
At this point, the organization has reached a status that comes with additional legal obligations for the employer. Some of these additional laws, however, apply only when the employer is subject to affirmative action requirements as a federal contractor. These laws are the Executive Order 11246 (Affirmative Action) issued in 1965, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, the Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) of 1996, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010. Employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees are required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to provide affordable health insurance to full-time employees and their dependents (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.) There a few instances when EEO-1 reporting will be required by a company employing less than 100 employee: when an employer is owned, affiliated with or controlled by a company so that the group constitutes a single entity employing a total of 100 or more employees, if they have 50 or more employees and is a federal contractor or subcontractor with a contract, subcontract or purchase order worth more than $50,000, or when they have 50 or more employees and act as an issuing and paying agent for US Savings Bonds or serve as a depository of government funds. (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, n.d.)
When You Have 100 or More Employees
This is the final major employee threshold that employers reach in the hiring and recruitment process. When their payroll reaches 100 employees, the employer is subject to EEO-1 reporting and must submit annual reports to the federal government that summarize its workforce by job category, sex, race, and ethnicity. The organization is also subject to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) of 1988. The WARN Act protect employees, their families, and communities by requiring employers “with 100 or more employees to provide 60 calendar days advance notice of a plant closing and mass layoff affecting 50 or more employees at a single site of employment.” Exceptions to this act would be layoffs due to “unforeseeable business circumstances, faltering companies, and natural disasters.” (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.) Employees that have worked less than 6 months in the last 12 months and employees that work an average of less than 20 hours per week are excluded when determining if a company have “100 or more employees” but must be notified of the closing. An employer who orders a plant closing or mass layoff in violation of the notice requirements of this act is liable to employees for back pay and benefits and subject to civil penalties for violations with respect to a local government (Congress.gov, 1988).
Federal Government Employees
The federal government adheres to many of the same laws as private sector employers. In addition to those, government employers have other legal obligations. Some of these requirements stem from the United States Constitution, others from federal laws. Additional applicable laws include the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, and the Privacy Act of 1974.
While this summary does not give an extensive and comprehensive list or explanation of each law, having a deep understanding of these laws helps HR professionals to increase credibility and effectively mitigate risk.