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HR 101: Capsule Summaries of the Major HR Laws
Topic: Personnel/ HR Management
Type: Guidance

Below are capsule summaries of the major federal laws affecting human resources. For detailed information on a law, click on the links following the summary. Also be sure to check for comparable state laws. If there's a conflict beween a state and federal law, the one most beneficial to the employee usually applies.

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q

R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z


Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)--prohibits employment practices that discriminate on basis of age, unless age is a bona fide occupational qualification or the practice is based on "reasonable factors other than age." It covers employers with 20 or more employees, labor unions with 25 or more members, local and state governments, and employment agencies.

  • Age Discrimination
  • Pre-Employment Inquiries
  • Notices (Posting)

    Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)--prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment. It requires employers to "reasonably accommodate" qualified disabled applicants and employees unless it would impose an "undue hardship" to do so.

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    Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII--prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin by employers with 15 or more employees. It covers both intentional discrimination or discrimination in effect and considers sexual harassment a form of sex discrimination.

    Civil Rights Act of 1991--allows employees who file suit for intentional discrimination under certain laws to have a jury trial and to collect compensatory and punitive damages.

    Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)--applies to employers with 20 or more employees that offer group health coverage. They must offer separated employees (and sometimes their dependents) the option of retaining the health insurance at their own expense for a period of up to 18 months (36 months for certain dependents).

    Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA)--protects employees from being discharged by their employers because their wages have been garnished for any one debt and limits the amount of employees' earnings which may be garnished in any one week.

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    Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994--regulates third-party access to individual driving record information.

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    Employee Polygraph Protection Act--prohibits employers from requiring employees or prospective employees to submit to lie detector tests and makes it illegal to use or inquire about a lie detector test conducted by someone else.

    Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)--ensures that employees get pension and other benefits promised by their employers. It also requires tax-favored pension plans to provide benefits in a way that doesn't favor the highest-paid employees.

    Equal Pay Act--requires all employers engaged in interstate commerce to pay men and women equal wages for work that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions.

    Executive Order 11246--requires nondiscriminatory employment practices by all government contractors. Contractors with 50 or more employees and contracts of $50,000 or more must implement written affirmative action plans for women and minorities.

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    Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)--allows credit-reporting agencies to provide background financial and personal information on prospective and current employees to employers.

    Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA, or Wage and Hour Law)--applies to employers engaged in interstate commerce, which means virtually all employers. It sets minimum hourly wages (usually the federal minimum wage), training wages, overtime hours and rates (generally one-and-a-half times the regular pay for work in excess of 40 hours per week for non-salaried employees), and regulates the employment of children under 18. If state and federal law conflict, employers must follow the one most favorable to the employee.

    Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)--requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period. Employee jobs and benefits are protected during these leaves, which may be granted for the birth or adoption of a child, for the employee's serious health condition, or to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition.

    Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA)--requires that taxes be collected from both employers and employees to fund the Social Security program.

    Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA)--together with state unemployment systems, provides temporary benefits for discharged employees who earned a minimum weekly amount for a specified period preceding the claim. Employees usually can't claim benefits if they lost the job due to misconduct, quit without good cause, or refuse an offer of suitable employment without good cause.

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    Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)--creates national standards to protect individuals' medical records and other personal health information and gives patients more control over their health information.

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    Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986--prohibits employers from hiring illegal aliens and requires them to verify that employees are legally entitled to work in this country. It also bans discrimination based on national origin or citizenship status.

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    Jury System Improvement Act of 1978--prohibits employers from taking action against permanent employees for performing jury duty in federal court. Most states have similar laws covering state court jury duty.

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    Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA)--prohibits most group health plans with more than 50 workers from imposing annual or lifetime dollar limits on mental health benefits that are lower--less favorable--than the annual or lifetime dollar limits for medical and surgical benefits offered under the plan.

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    National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 (also known as the Wagner Act)--designed to promote collective bargaining between labor and management and to assure workers the right to organize and join a union without fear of reprisal.

    • NLRA
    • Unions

      Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act--requires health-insurance plans to cover postdelivery hospitalization for at least 48 hours following a normal delivery and 96 hours following a cesarean section.

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      Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)--requires safe and healthful working conditions. It authorizes enforcement of certain standards, assists and encourages the states in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions, and provides research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health.

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      Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996--requires every state to operate a child support enforcement program. Employers must report each newly hired worker to a state "directory of new hires" within 20 days of hiring by submitting the employee's W-4 form or equivalent document containing the worker's name, address, and Social Security number.

      Pregnancy Discrimination Act--prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. It does not require pregnancy leave, but does require that any employer short-term disability plans apply to pregnancy.

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      Rehabilitation Act of 1973--prohibits employers who receive federal government contracts or financial assistance from practicing employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

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      Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002--requires notices of 401(k) blackout periods, bars directors and executives from trading employer stock during blackout periods, and increases the criminal penalties for ERISA violations.

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      Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA)--is intended to minimize the disadvantages to an individual that occur when that person needs to be absent from his or her civilian employment to serve in this country's uniformed services.

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      Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Act of 1974--requires covered contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative steps to employ qualified Vietnam era, special disabled, recently separated, and other protected veterans. This obligation covers the full range of employment and personnel practices, such as recruitment, hiring, rates of pay, upgrading, and selection for training.

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      Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN)--imposes restrictions on the way layoffs are handled. It is designed to give employees advance notice of the layoff in order to find another job, to seek retraining in a new occupation, and to give state dislocated-worker units adequate preparation to assist affected workers.

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