Workplace safety and employee rights should never be an afterthought. Strict labor laws are in place to protect workers throughout California. Human resources departments play a key role in keeping their companies legally compliant. Here, we explore the critical employment laws that every HR professional should know.
Every business is unique. Some are billion-dollar enterprises with thousands of employees, while others are smaller operations with only a few workers. But they all have something in common.
They all have to be aware of state and federal laws designed to provide employees with a safe and secure environment. Most companies have HR managers or departments to put these legal policies in place. When these policies are not followed, and workers suffer unfair treatment, they might have an employment lawsuit against their boss or company.
Legal Resources for HR Professionals
What is HR?
HR stands for human resources. Most companies of a certain size will have a human resources department or at least one individual working on HR responsibilities.
The roles of an HR professional or department might vary depending on the organization they work for. They typically handle tasks including:
- Staff management: This is a broad term that can include everything from recruiting and hiring new employees to in-job support and conflict resolution.
- Compensation: This involves establishing job descriptions, evaluating payment procedures, managing hourly employees clocking in and out, compensation structures, and more.
- Benefits: Responsibilities might involve negotiating deals and structures with health insurance carriers and managing 401(k) accounts.
- Staff development: HR representatives are often responsible for ensuring staff members have everything they need. This can include everything from computers and software to personal and professional development training programs.
- Legal compliance: Ensuring that existing and emerging labor laws are monitored and observed. These laws include the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Workplace safety: Another responsibility will involve maintaining a safe and secure workplace – according to the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1970 (OSHA) – through training, logs, regulations, and equipment.
Human resources could be outsourced or kept in-house. Traditional guidance is that any company with ten or more employees should consider a dedicated HR professional. But smaller companies without a dedicated HR manager will still need solid policies in place for health and safety, disciplinary issues, terminations, legal matters, and grievances.
Why is HR Important?
Strong human resource policies and practices are essential for a business to run smoothly. An HR team is responsible for lining up the best candidates for open positions and keeping employees happy and thriving.
But most important of all, human resources is responsible for maintaining a safe workspace and keeping their company legally compliant. Failing to do so can have serious consequences, both for the workers and for their employers.
Breakdowns in legal compliance can result in workplace conflicts, unlawful behavior, and injuries. And in turn, these will lead to employment lawsuits.
Do HR Professionals Need Legal Knowledge?
The level of legal knowledge required for HR positions might vary based on the tasks they handle within their company.
An HR professional does not have to be a trained lawyer. However, maintaining legal compliance is widely regarded to be the most important role covered by human resources.
To monitor and maintain compliance effectively, the best HR professionals will have a working knowledge of the laws relating to the workplace and how they should be applied.
Critical Laws that Every HR Professional Must Know
Of their many responsibilities, legal compliance is perhaps the most important for HR professionals. The following are some of the critical laws that they must know in detail.
1. Workplace Discrimination Laws
California law strictly prohibits discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination occurs when people are treated unfairly due to certain characteristics.
Examples of workplace discrimination could involve a manager or supervisor demoting a worker or otherwise treating them unfairly because of their religious views, or the color of their skin.
Discrimination against a person for any of the following reasons is illegal.
- Sex or gender identity/expression.
- Sexual orientation.
- Medical conditions.
Discrimination is distinct from bullying and harassment under labor law. An HR department should have a formal complaint process that employees can follow if they have been victims of discrimination.
2. Wage and Hour Laws
Wage and hour laws in California refer mainly to the minimum wage and overtime rules that employers must follow.
California Minimum Wage
The minimum wage in California has been rising steadily in recent years. As of January 1, 2023, the state minimum wage is $15.50 per hour for all employees.
HR representatives need to be aware that the $15.50 minimum wage is enforced by California state law. However, individual counties sometimes introduce their own minimum wage.
A county’s minimum wage cannot be lower than the state amount. But it can be higher. For example, Orange County does not have its own minimum wage – it uses state law. But Los Angeles County moved to a minimum wage of $15.96 per hour in July 2022. It will rise again to $16.90 per hour in July 2023.
An HR manager must ensure that their company always complies with the minimum wage law.
According to California law, employees must be paid overtime if they work over eight hours in a day or 40 hours per week.
Employees who work over those hours must be paid at a higher rate. They should receive:
- 5x their usual pay when working over eight hours and up to 12 hours in a single day.
- 2x their usual pay when exceeding 12 hours in a workday.
These laws apply to hourly and salaried workers.
3. Meal and Rest Break Laws
California employee rights include providing set meal and rest breaks throughout the workday based on the hours that the employee works.
Workers must be allowed to take:
- A meal break lasting at least 30 minutes when they work a shift of five hours or more. The break must be taken before the end of the fifth working hour and should be uninterrupted.
- A 10-minute rest break for every four hours that the employee works.
4. Employee Benefits Laws
An HR manager or professional is responsible for knowing as much as possible about the benefits offered to employees at their company.
That could involve knowing federal laws and internal rules that dictate how benefits are handled.
Many benefits are not legally required, such as paid vacation time, retirement plans, medical insurance, and paid holidays. For these benefits, internal rules must be clear and followed. But other benefits, such as sick pay, do come with legal requirements.
An HR department should know the law and its company’s internal policies.
5. Employment Immigration Laws
The laws surrounding immigration concerning employment in California are complex and far-reaching. In cases involving immigration issues, it may be necessary to consult with a lawyer to ensure an interpretation of the law is correct.
However, human resources should also be familiar with the basics.
- Immigrants with legal status can be hired for employment in the U.S. Legal status includes holding a work visa, green card, or impending citizenship.
- It is illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers. They should refuse to hire them and can fire them once they learn about a lack of work authorization.
- Employers can bring foreign employees into the U.S. for seasonal work under temporary agreements, but this must be cleared through strict official channels.
- It is illegal for employers to discriminate against workers during recruiting, hiring, or firing based on their citizenship or immigration status.
6. Workplace Safety Laws
Every employee has a right to a safe and secure working environment. Accidents will always happen, but the law requires employers to ensure workplaces are free of known or foreseeable dangers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 was passed to prevent workplace deaths and injuries.
The OSHA rules are extensive. They include:
- Setting out health and safety standards.
- Requiring safety training for employees.
- Forcing employers to keep records and report accidents.
- Ensuring that protective gear is provided at no cost to workers.
- Protecting workers from retaliation.
These are just some of the laws and guidelines that human resources must be familiar with.
7. Managing Conflicts in the Workplace
Many people have seen TV shows such as The Office, in which long-suffering HR managers are assigned the impossible task of mediating hilarious co-worker disputes.
In fictional shows, these disputes are designed to be comedic and played for laughs. But it is not unlike many real-life situations. Human resources professionals have the often difficult task of mediating arguments between colleagues, as well as disputes between employers and their workers.
Petty spats are one thing. But HR needs to know the law and get involved when disputes involve:
- Harassment and abuse.
- Pay and benefit disputes.
- Wage, hour, overtime, and break disputes.
- Wrongful termination.
Applying the Law in a Workplace
Anyone can memorize California labor laws or look them up when needed. But the real challenge lies in applying labor law to a real-world situation.
The best HR professionals should have a base of legal knowledge. But laws are consistently updated, and real workplace issues often throw up unusual scenarios. Combining legal knowledge with critical thinking skills is integral to solving business problems and disputes.
Other Important Employment Laws
A huge range of important laws are in place to protect the rights of employees. These include federal laws that cover workers across the U.S. and state laws that are specific to California.
Some of the other important laws that HR professionals need to know include:
- National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- California Family Rights Act (CFRA)
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
Required Training for HR Positions
Training for an HR position will vary based on the company you want to work for and the position and responsibilities you will hold. Qualifications include:
- A bachelor’s degree.
- Professional certification – such as SHRM.
- On-the-job training.
- Additional training courses.
- A master’s degree.
Most companies require a bachelor’s degree for an HR position. In many cases, the focus of the degree does not matter. However, some companies will look specifically for candidates with a degree in HR.
An alternative is a professional certification that can be gained without a degree.
While at a company, many HR professionals are given on-the-job training and extra external training to prepare for additional responsibilities. And to run an HR department, particularly for a larger company, a master’s degree will often be required.
What Happens When Labor Laws are Violated?
Workplace and employment laws are in place to protect workers and their employers. They are hugely important in maintaining safe workspaces that are free from dangers to the physical and mental well-being of employees.
The aggrieved party often turns to an employment lawyer when these laws are violated.
At Bisnar Chase, our attorneys take great pride in holding companies accountable for any wrongdoing. We handle claims involving wage and hour disputes, rest and meal break violations, discrimination and harassment, wrongful termination, retaliation, and more.
- We have a 99% success rate.
- Our firm has recovered more than $800 million for our clients.
- Bisnar Chase has a team focused on employment cases.
- We have decades of experience with cases just like yours.
- The B|C team has won millions of dollars for wronged employees, as well as securing significant court rulings in employment cases.
We recognize that human resources staff walk a difficult line. They have a duty to their employers to represent the company and prevent any situations from getting to the point of legal non-compliance. But they also have a responsibility to their fellow employees to ensure they are treated fairly, both by their colleagues and their employers.
Our employment law firm is here to offer help and a free consultation to anyone who has concerns about conduct in their workplace. Call us at (800) 561-4887, or send an email or a live chat through our website. We look forward to hearing from you.