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The USA Federal Employment Laws You Can’t Overlook

10 min read
federal employment laws

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) administers and enforces more than 180 federal employment laws. These apply to 10 million workplaces in America and affect 157 million workers. It’s important to make sure your business is in compliance with federal laws on employment.

In this post, we have created a list of federal laws that both employers and employees need to keep in mind. Covering everything from minimum wage to pension protection, we’ll give you a glass of key federal legislation. We’ll also help you out with links to government websites and resources so that you can consult the regulations themselves.

However, always remember to consult a federal employment law attorney before making any important decisions concerning federal standards. Laws by employer size may vary, and not all the laws below will be applicable to every business.

Legal Issues Affecting HR (Know Your HR Law)

No matter whether you have a base knowledge of laws around HR, or you need to brush up on your hr law, what we’re about to share will be key to ensuring your company stays compliant.

By USA Law:

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Federal Employment Laws on Discrimination Protections

The Civil Rights Act (Title VII)

One of the most famous and most important of the federal laws prohibiting discrimination is the Civil Rights Act. This iconic law, reinforced by the rest of the equal opportunity laws, makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The Civil Rights Act also protects those who complain about discrimination. In 1978, the law was amended to include pregnant women as a protected group.

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The Equal Pay Act (EPA)

EPA prevents employers from paying different wages to men and women who perform equal work in the same workplace. Retaliation against a person who complains about discrimination is illegal under this law.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

Under ADEA, it is illegal to discriminate against people who are 40 or older due to their age. Once again, those who complain about age discrimination are protected.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

This important law makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in both the private and public sectors. Under ADA, employers must reasonably accommodate the physical or mental limitations of an individual with a disability, so long as doing so does not impose “undue hardship” on the business.

Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA)

This law makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. According to GINA, Employers cannot request, require, or purchase genetic information about employees.

Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

The first bill that President Obama signed into law in 2009, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act benefits victims of discrimination. This law includes a provision that allows employees to seek compensation for the discrimination they faced in the past. If an employee has experienced discrimination in base pay or wages, job classifications, career ladder, or tenure track positions, they may be entitled to restitution.

Federal Laws on Employment Regulating Wages and Hours

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

FLSA is one of the most major federal laws on employment. This law establishes the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, secures time and a half overtime pay for non-exempt employees, and lays out federal youth employment laws as well as employer recordkeeping requirements. When states offer their own minimum wage, workers receive the higher of the two. As part of FLSA, the Department of Labor, (DOL) proposed a rule to determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor, as one of the new federal employment laws 2020. This will have a profound effect on employer obligations, so stay tuned for updates!

FLSA requires that employers hang federal employment laws posters in the workplace so that employees are aware of the minimum wage, or their rights to unpaid leave. Not all posters will apply to all businesses, so employers can check with the elaws Poster Advisor to find out what they need.

FLSA legislates many standards. However, It is important to note that FLSA does not require:

  1. vacation, holiday, severance, or sick pay
  2. meal or rest periods
  3. premium pay for weekend or holiday work
  4. pay raises of fringe benefits
  5. discharge notice
  6. pay stubs or W-2s

federal laws on employment

Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA)

Administered by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD), CCPA concerns wage garnishment. This law prevents employers from firing employees whose wages have been garnished. It also places limitations on the amount of an individual’s wages that may be garnished in any one week.

Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act (MSPA)

MSPA protects agricultural workers in their interactions with farm labor contractors, agricultural employers, agricultural associations, and providers of migrant housings. Farm labor contractors must register with the DOL and provide workers with a written disclosure with the terms and conditions of their employment.

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Employee Benefits Security

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)

This law sets minimum standards for employee benefit plans. Employers have an obligation to provide promised benefits and satisfy ERISA’s requirements for managing and administrating benefits. ERISA protects retirement savings from mismanagement and clarifies that those managing savings must act in the best interest of plan participants. It also requires transparency and accountability. ERISA applies to retirement plans, as well as other benefit plans, called “welfare plans” which may include health benefits, disability benefits, death benefits, and more.

Pension Protection Act

The Pension Protection Act, which President George W. Bush called “the most sweeping reform of America’s pension laws in over 30 years,” expanded the protections provided for in ERISA. This law increased the amounts that workers can contribute to a retirement plan, made it possible to directly convert 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plan assets to Roth IRA assets, and offered benefits to low-income workers, military reservists, employees of small businesses, and more.

Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)

COBRA provides workers and their families the opportunity to continue group health coverage provided by their group health plan for limited periods. After a voluntary or involuntary job loss, hour reductions, transitions between jobs, death, divorce, and other events, employees may continue to pay for health coverage.

employee benefits

Federal Employment Law Breaks & Absences 

The Family Medical and Family Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA guarantees employees twelve workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for family or medical reasons. Employees can take leave in order to bond with a newborn or adopted child or to care for a spouse child, or parent. They can also use this time to recuperate from any serious health condition which prevents them from performing their job. Workers may be able to use this leave in conjunction with leave guaranteed by state governments.

Workplace Safety and Security

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

OSHA entitles employees to a safe workplace free from toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, or unsanitary conditions. The law created the Occupational Saftey and Health Administration which establishes and enforces standards for everything from Personal Protective Equipment to fall protection such as safety harnesses and guardrails. OSHA also protects workers who file safety, health, or whistleblower complaints.

Mine Safety and Health Act

The Mine Act requires the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to inspect each surface mine at least 2 times a year and each underground mine at least 4 times a year. MSHA  does not have to provide notice of an inspection and can enter any mine without a warrant.

Labor Union Protections

National Labor Relations Act

NLRA grants employees the right to form or join unions and to engage in protected concerted activities to address or improve working conditions.

Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA)

Administered by the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), LMDRA sets forth a “Bill of Rights” guaranteed to union members. It also sets out reporting requirements for labor organizations, standards for the regular election of union officers, and safeguards for protecting labor organization funds.

Work for Non-US Citizens

Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)

Under INA, employers may hire only people who are eligible to legally work (i.e. US citizens and residents), and foreign nationals authorized to work. It is the responsibility of the employer to verify the identity and eligibility of anyone to be hired with the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (I-9). INA also designates a protocol for reporting and recordkeeping.

Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)

IRCA made it illegal for businesses to hire those unauthorized to work in the US.

Miscellaneous Federal Laws for Employment

Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA)

The EPPA prohibits private employers from using lie detector tests for pre-employment screens or during the course of employment. This is one of the federal laws for employment that does not cover the federal, state, or local government agencies.

Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN)

WARN requires employers to provide 60 days of notification in advance of plant closings or mass layoffs. Workers can use this time to adjust their finances, seek other jobs, or enter skill training or retraining.

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Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)

This law prohibits employment discrimination against a person on the basis of past military service, current military obligations, or intent to serve. Under USERRA, pre-service employers must reemploy service members if they meet certain criteria.

federal laws for employment

Guides to Legal Employment Issues

Federal Employment Drug Test Laws

Most private employers are not federally required to have drug-free workplace policies of any kind.

For those working for or with the federal government, it may be a different story. The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 requires federal contractors and federal grantees to maintain drug-free workplaces. Further, under Executive Order 12564, certain federal employees are subject to mandatory drug testing. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has guidelines for drug testing within federal agencies (applicable only to government employees).

Should a private employer choose to develop a drug-testing policy, they must be sure it is respectful of their employees’ rights. For example, under ADA, employers cannot fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote a person who has a substance abuse problem or is enrolled in a substance abuse rehabilitation program. Employers must also respect an employee’s right to use the 12 weeks of leave guaranteed by FMLA to deal with substance abuse disorders.

Federal Labor Laws Salaried Employees Contracts

When it comes to negotiating contracts with salaried employees, employers must make sure that they are compliant with a slew of federal laws on employment. While hiring, its important that employers pay close attention to anti-discrimination laws, starting with the Civil Rights Act. Employers cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, or political affiliation. Those hiring non-U.S. citizens may wish to review INA to ensure that new hires are eligible to work.

Employers must look to FLSA for standards for wages and overtime pay, as well as information about labor restrictions for minors.  Many of the statutes enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Employers must take into account state laws that may supersede federal laws for employment. OSHA will help them to provide an adequately safe working environment.

Collective bargaining agreements are governed by the NLRA, which offers standards and regulations for negotiations between employees and employers.

Compensatory Time

Compensatory time, paid time off is earned by an employee in lieu of time-and-half overtime pay when an employee works over 40 hours a week. Certain state and local government employees may receive compensatory time off at a rate of one and one-half hours for each overtime hour worked. Police, firefighters, emergency response personnel may accrue up to 480 hours of comp time. Other public sector employees may accrue up to 240 hours.

While compensatory time off for non-exempt employees is an acceptable practice in the public sector, the DOL does not permit its use for non-exempt employees in the private sector. federal labor laws for exempt employees, state the exempt employees must be paid a set salary no many how many or how few hours they work. Their salaries cannot be reduced when they work fewer than 40 hours a week. They do not receive overtime when they work more than 40 hours.

The FLSA does not prohibit an employer from giving exempt employees additional time off as a reward, but it is advisable to use a term other than “compensatory time” to describe this.

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Wrongful Termination

Both state and federal laws prohibit employers from firing employees for certain reasons. According to the federal suite of anti-discrimination laws, employers cannot fire an employee on the basis of their race, gender, national origin, disability, religion, or age. Pregnant women are also protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Finally, in 2014, President Obama added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list with Executive Order 13672. Under the Lily Ledbetter Fairpay act, employees who have been discriminated against may be eligible for compensation.

It is important to note that states may add their own additions to “protected classes” so this is not an exhaustive list.

wrongful termination

Federal Labor Laws on Salary Employees with Government Contracts, Grants, of Financial Aid

Recipients of government contracts, grants, or financial aid have their own suite of safety and health standards. Here is a laws list applicable to contractors:

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) requires federal contractors and subcontractors to provide equal opportunity employment.

Workers’ Compensation

The U.S. Department of Labor has an Office of Workers’ Compensation Program which administers four major disability compensation programs. These programs provide benefits such as wage replacement, medical treatment, vocational rehabilitation to workers who have suffered work-related injuries or occupational disease. The federal employment laws in place are as follows:

  • The Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) creates a workers’ compensation program which pays benefits to federal employees who suffer injuries in the performance of duty which leads to disability or death. This law also has provisions for wage loss compensation for total or partial disability.
  • Under The Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), coal miners disabled due to pneumoconiosis (black lung disease) from working in or around the nation’s coal mines receive monthly payments. They may also receive medical benefits covering the care of their “totally disabling” pneumoconiosis.
  • Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is also known as the Longshore Act. LHWCA provides compensation and medical care to employees disabled from injuries in the loading, unloading, repairing, or building of certain vessels.
  • The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) is a compensation program for employees of the Department of Energy and its contractors and subcontractors. Those suffering from cancer or other illnesses as a result of exposure to radiation during their work are eligible to receive a lump-sum payment of $150,000 and medical benefits.

The OWCP does not administer or oversee workers’ compensation programs beyond these. Employees who worked for a private company or a state government should contact a local workers’ compensation program.

Interpreting Federal Law

The many federal laws for employment may seem confusing, but they are vital to protecting workers and helping employers to create safe and supportive work environments.

State labor laws will arguably be even more important in creating workplace policies than federal laws. Different states may have higher standers for minimum wage, guidelines for time off accrual, and higher health standards. When there are both federal and state laws applicable, the rule of thumb is to adhere to the most stringent.

For example, when in 2010 FLSA was amended to require an employer to provide a lactation area for nursing mothers, there was already legislation surround lactation in place in 24 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Colombia. The law that offers more protection to nursing mothers will be the one that employers will follow.

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Employers and employees should always consult with a lawyer when developing and implementing workplace policies according to state and federal employment laws.

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Written by: Valerie Slaughter


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