Employer Resources: US Employment Law

In the United States, employers are subject to a complex canopy of federal, state, and municipal laws.  Although workplace laws may seem overwhelming, most address three basic employer obligations:  nondiscrimination, maintaining a safe workplace, and respecting basic worker rights.

An employer should carefully research the laws pertaining to his or her industry and location prior to beginning the hiring process.  We have drawn up a basic outline to help get you started.

Federal Employment Laws

There are more federal employment laws than we can possibly list in one article.  We have outlined many of the most crucial ones, however should you have a question about a particular policy or practice we recommend conducting your own research and consulting an attorney or human relations specialist.

Anti-discrimination laws

Federal law dictates that employers must not discriminate on the basis of

Employees are protected from discrimination at any point before, during, or after the employee/employer relationship including:

  • Recruitment – including hiring, advertising jobs, conducting background checks, and asking interview questions
  • Training
  • Assigning salaries
  • Maintaining a harassment-free workplace
  • Assigning benefits
  • Firing/lay offs
  • Administering retirement programs

Additionally, employees may not be subject to retaliatory actions in response to a complaint of any above discrimination, sexual or other harrassment, or termination for required military service.  In some cases, employers may be obligated to take certain actions for special groups, such as providing reasonable accommodation to disabled workers or allowing leave for members of the National Guard and Reserves.

Safety Laws

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates health and safety practices in the workforce.  OSHA also provides training, enforcement, and “whistle blower” protections for employees who file safety complaints.

Privacy Protections

Lie Detector Tests – With some exceptions, employers are generally prohibited from requiring lie detector tests, either prior to or during employment.

Electronic Privacy Rights – Employees have some very minor protections against interception of electronic communication by employers.

Social Security and Tax Obligations

Most employers must withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes, or FICA, from their employees’ wages.  Additionally, most employers must pay Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA) from their own funds.

Wage and Hour Laws

Most employers are subject to federal laws dictating minimum wage and overtime requirements.

State Employment Laws

Anti-discrimination laws may differ by state, however nowhere will they provide less protection than federal laws.  In addition to the discrimination categories listed above, employees may be protected on the basis of:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Specific medical conditions
  • Parental status
  • Marital status
  • Political affiliation

For more information, consult your local EEOC office, human rights commission, or an attorney in your state.

Individual states generally also have their own privacy laws, tax obligations, state disability insurance, and worker’s compensation insurance requirements, as well as state-specific minimum wage, overtime, and hours requirements.

Municipal Employment Laws

Individual cities, towns, and counties may have additional employment laws which employers doing business in their municipalities must honor.  For example, the City of San Francisco provides protection to workers on the basis of gender identity, requires paid sick leave, sets a minimum per-employee health insurance spending requirement, and specifies a particular minimum wage.  To stay abreast of municipal regulations, check with local officials prior to beginning the hiring process.

More Information:  Resources

Workplace Law Posters

Confused?  Don’t feel overwhelmed.  Start by acquiring your state and federal employment law posters, to post in a break room or other spot highly-visible to your employees.  Posters include information you are required to pass on to your employees, and also provide a simple way for new employers to understand workplace laws.

Free Employment Law Posters

Available to download and print, from the US Department of Labor

Comprehensive Employment Law Posters

State and federal laws on one simple laminated poster, available for purchase from laborlawcenter.com

Remember to inquire locally about specific municipal requirements.

Government Agencies

US Department of Labor FirstStep Employment Law Advisor

Provides a basic overview of employer laws and obligations

US Department of Labor Employers Page

Includes summary of major workplace laws, such as wage and hour requirements

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commision

Need more information about anti-discrimination laws?  Start here.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “E-tools”

User-friendly explanations of complex workplace safety problems

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Employment Taxes FAQ

For small businesses

Other Helpful Websites

Human Resource Blog

Ask the staff of the Labor Law Center a question, or browse thousands of helpful entries.

FindLaw Employment Law and Human Resources

For small businesses

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