Navigating compliance throughout the employee lifecycle can be tricky at times. With an alphabet soup of regulations to follow, it’s easy to see how HR can trip up and place their company at risk. No matter what state your company does business in, or how many employees you have, you are subject to state and federal employment laws.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
The EEOC not only covers hiring practices, but also the day-to-day management of employees. The EEOC enforces federal workplace laws making it illegal to discriminate against employees because of their sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), age, skin color, disability, national origin, race, religion, or genetic information.
Employment law firm Littler recently issued its seventh annual report on EEOC developments. They found that 63% of harassment lawsuits filed in 2017 included sexual harassment claims. Fifty-three percent of those complaints alleged that there were multiple victims.
These claims can result in enormous settlements or jury verdicts. For example, in 2017, an automaker paid a $10 million settlement for claims involving racial and sexual harassment, and a Florida federal jury returned a $17.4 million verdict in favor of female farm workers who alleged recurrent sexual harassment.
According to the rules of the EEOC, the main types of discrimination are:
- Age discrimination — Age discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. It is not illegal for an employer or other covered entity to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both workers are age 40 or older. Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are both over 40.
Sexual discrimination — Sex discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of that person’s sex. Discrimination against an individual because of gender identity, including transgender status, or because of sexual orientation is discrimination because of sex in violation of Title VII.
Race/color discrimination — Race discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features). Color discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of skin color complexion. Race/color discrimination also can involve treating someone unfavorably because the person is married to (or associated with) a person of a certain race or color. Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are the same race or color.
Religious discrimination — Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.
National origin discrimination — National origin discrimination involves treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not). National origin discrimination also can involve treating people unfavorably because they are married to (or associated with) a person of a certain national origin.
Disability discrimination — Disability discrimination occurs when an employer or other entity covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act treats a qualified individual with a disability who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because she has a disability. The ADA requires businesses to provide a reasonable accommodation to applicants and employees with disabilities unless the accommodation would cause a significant hardship for the business.
Genetic discrimination – Title II of Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions, restricts employers and other entities covered by Title II (employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management training and apprenticeship programs - referred to as "covered entities") from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information, and strictly limits the disclosure of genetic information.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
OSHA assures safe and healthful working conditions for employees by setting and enforcing workplace safety standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Examples of OSHA standards include requirements to provide fall protection, prevent trenching cave-ins, prevent exposure to some infectious diseases, ensure the safety of workers who enter confined spaces, prevent exposure to such harmful substances as asbestos and lead, put guards on machines, provide respirators or other safety equipment, and provide training for certain dangerous jobs.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
FMLA is a federal law that provides medical and maternity leave rights to eligible employees. Private companies with 50 or more employees working within a 75-mile radius or public employers must comply with the FMLA. Under the FMLA, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for the birth of a child, care of a family member with a health condition and certain other circumstances.
Many states also have medical leave laws that may apply to smaller businesses, so be sure you’re aware of the rules governing employees in the states your business operates in and adjust your policies accordingly.
Make sure your request for leave process includes a legally compliant method for documenting and processing civilian and military FMLA leave. It’s also important to understand that FMLA regulations are completely separate from your company’s sick leave policy. Even employees who are not entitled to company paid time off may be eligible to take an unpaid absence under FLMA rules.
These are just a few areas of federal noncompliance that can hurt your business. Keep in mind that states often have other employment laws that HR needs to be aware of. When your company complies with regulations, you’ll have less legal trouble, higher employment retention, and a better overall brand image. And while compliance requirements can be complex, maintaining good records and a clean image throughout the employee lifecycle is just good business.