The Employment Laws You Need to Know

Are you 100 percent sure your HR department can handle EVERY situation that comes their way? Truth is, there are 1,001 different scenarios going on throughout your company every day that impact employment law, benefits administration, compensation, and even fringe benefits.

Just knowing the laws that apply takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. But knowing your organization’s responsibilities is critical. This quick start guide to the most common HR laws is a good start to getting your department up to speed.

Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination

1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

2. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination.

ThinkstockPhotos-990190013. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older.

4. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) as amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, in the private sector and in state and local governments.

5. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 provides, among other things, monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.

6. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) ensures that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard or other “uniformed services”: (1) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service; (2) are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and (3) are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service.

7. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits the use of genetic information in providing health insurance and setting terms and conditions of employment.

8. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 states employment discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions is prohibited under Title VII.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces most of these laws. The EEOC provides oversight and enforcement of most federal equal employment opportunity regulations, practices, and policies.

Other federal laws, not enforced by the EEOC, also prohibit discrimination and reprisal against federal employees and applicants.

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) contains a number of prohibitions, known as “prohibited personnel practices,” which are designed to promote overall fairness in federal personnel actions (5 USC 2302).

Prohibited Discriminatory Practices

Under Title VII, the ADA, and the ADEA, it is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment, including:

1. Hiring and firing
ThinkstockPhotos-807165372. Compensation, assignment, or classification of employees
3. Transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall
4. Job advertisements
5. Recruitment
6. Testing
7. Use of company facilities
8. Training and apprenticeship programs
9. Fringe benefits
10. Pay, retirement plans, and disability leave
11. Other terms and conditions of employment

Discriminatory practices under these laws also include:
• Harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age

• Retaliation against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation, or opposing discriminatory practices

• Employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities, traits, or performance of individuals of a certain sex, race, age, religion, or ethnic group, or individuals with disabilities

• Denying employment opportunities to a person because of marriage to, or association with, an individual of a particular race, religion, or national origin, or an individual with a disability; Title VII also prohibits discrimination because of participation in schools or places of worship associated with a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group.

Employers are required to post notices to all employees advising them of their rights under the laws that the EEOC enforces and their right to be free from retaliation. Such notices must be accessible, as needed, to persons with visual or other disabilities that affect reading. See the “Poster Page” at

Note: Many states and municipalities have enacted protections against discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, status as a parent, marital status, and political affiliation — “classes” not protected under federal law.

Other Prohibited Discriminatory Practices

Title VII
ThinkstockPhotos-179102375Title VII prohibits not only intentional discrimination but also practices that have the effect of discriminating against individuals because of their race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.

National Origin Discrimination
It is illegal to discriminate against an individual because of birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group.

Religious Accommodation
An employer is required to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of an employee or prospective employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship.

Sex Discrimination
Title VII’s broad prohibitions against sex discrimination specifically cover:
• Sexual harassment
• Pregnancy-based discrimination

Age Discrimination in Employment Act
The ADEA’s broad ban against age discrimination regarding employees 40 years or older also specifically prohibits:

ThinkstockPhotos-458866939• Statements or specifications in job notices or advertisements of age preference and limitations. An age limit may only be specified in the rare circumstance where age has been proven to be a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ).

• Discrimination on the basis of age by apprenticeship programs, including joint labor-management apprenticeship programs

• Denial of benefits to older employees. An employer may reduce benefits based on age only if the cost of providing the reduced benefits to older workers is the same as the cost of providing benefits to younger workers.

Equal Pay Act
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the payment of wages or benefits, where men and women perform work of similar skill, effort, and responsibility for the same employer under similar working conditions.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA and ADAAA prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in all employment practices.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 made major changes in the federal laws against employment discrimination enforced by EEOC. Enacted in part to reverse several Supreme Court decisions that limited the rights of persons protected by these laws, the act also provides additional protections, including incidental and punitive damages, and trial by jury where an intent to discriminate is shown.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994
USERRA protects servicemembers’ reemployment rights when returning from a period of service in the uniformed services, including those called up from the reserves or National Guard, and prohibits employer discrimination based on military service or obligation.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008
GINA protects Americans from being treated unfairly because of differences in their DNA that may affect their health. The law prohibits discrimination by health insurers and employers.

Employers and Other Entities Covered By EEO Laws
• Title VII, the ADA, and GINA cover all private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions that employ 15 or more individuals. These laws also cover private and public employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees controlling apprenticeship and training.

• The ADEA covers all private employers with 20 or more employees, state and local governments (including school districts), employment agencies, and labor organizations.

• The EPA covers all employers who are covered by the Federal Wage and Hour Law (the Fair Labor Standards Act). Virtually all employers are subject to the provisions of this act.

• Title VII, the ADEA, and the EPA also cover the federal government. In addition, the federal government is covered by Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, which incorporate the requirements of the ADA. However, different procedures are used for processing complaints of federal discrimination.


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