How companies hire and treat their employees is subject to an ever-changing body of rules and regulations enacted at the federal, state and even local level. Compliance requires vigilance and an understanding of your rights and obligations as an employer. WorkPlace Synergy has provided a brief list of the major federal and state employment laws below. While not all-inclusive, this snapshot of the most significant ones includes a brief definition plus links to relevant websites for more details.

Each summary indicates the employment threshold at which the law applies, though coverage by some of the laws also depends on variables such as public versus private-sector, independent contractors and whether the employer holds contracts with the Federal government. The vast majority of employment laws apply equally to for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

Many states and some municipalities have enacted legislation that may provide protection for employees beyond what the federal law provides. Employees are entitled to the maximum protection afforded under federal and/or state law.

Minimum Employees


Key Provisions


Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Section 1981)

Gave further rights to the freed slaves after the Civil War. Section 1981 protects against race discrimination. Covers all private employers


National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) (Wagner Act) (1935)

Protects workers against unfair labor practices and allows them to unionize or support labor unions without fear of recrimination by the employer. Primary responsibility for enforcement rests on the National Labor Relations Board


Federal Insurance Contribution's Act (FICA) (1935)

Payroll tax imposed on both employees and employers to fund Social Security and Medicare


Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) (1938)

Regulates the status of employees (versus independent contractors) and provides for a minimum wage and overtime unless the employee meets an exempt classification. Includes Child Labor laws which regulate the hiring and pay of minors


Unemployment Insurance Programs

Unemployment benefits are provided by state unemployment insurance programs within guidelines established by Federal law. Eligibility for unemployment insurance, benefit amounts and the length of time benefits are available are determined by state law.


Consumer Credit Protection Act (1968)

Sets a national maximum limit on the amount of an employee's wages that can be withheld to satisfy wage garnishment


Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) (1974)

Does not mandate any employer-provided benefit plans, but establishes requirements and minimum standards for those that do relative to administration of employee retirement and health benefit and welfare plans in private industry


Immigration Reform & Control Act (IRCA) (1986)

Prohibits discrimination against job applicants on basis of national origin or citizenship; establishes penalties for hiring illegal aliens and requires that new employees provide specific documents to employers showing that they are who they claim to be and that they have a legal right to work in the United States. (I-9 forms)


Employee Polygraph Protection Act (1988)

Prohibits employers from requiring pre-employment polygraph examinations, except under very restricted use


Uniformed Services Employment & Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA) (1994)

Protects employment, reemployment and retention rights of persons who serve, have served or will serve in the uniformed services. Applies to all businesses


Federal New Hire Reporting Program (1997)

New hire reports are matched against child support records at the state and national levels to locate parents who owe child support


Equal Pay Act (1963)

Prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of sex by requiring equal pay for equal work of the same skills, effort, and responsibilities and performed under similar working conditions


Workers' Compensation

Workers' compensation insurance program provided by each state, paid for by the employer, designed to protect workers and provide compensation, prompt medical and disability benefits in event of a work-related injury or disease. Covers businesses, government bodies and non-profit organizations


Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) (1970)

Mandates compliance with federal health & safety standards. Broad coverage includes nearly all private-sector employers


Title VII, Civil Rights Act (1964)

Prohibits discrimination or segregation in all terms and conditions of employment (including pay and benefits) on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Applies to public and private employers


Uniform Guidelines of Employee Selection Procedures (1978)

Prohibits selection polices and practices that have an adverse impact on the employment opportunities for any race, sex, or ethnic group unless it is a business necessity. Applies to public and private employers


Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978)

Amends Title VII to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions; requires employers to treat pregnancy the same as any other temporary disability


Title I, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990)

Protects qualified individuals with disabilities from unlawful employment discrimination in the private sector. Discrimination is prohibited if the individual can do the essential job functions. An employer must make reasonable accommodations for such individuals unless doing so would place an undue hardship on the employer.


Civil Rights Act of 1991

Expands possible damage awards available to victims of intentional discrimination under Title VII to include compensatory and punitive damages; gives plaintiffs in cases of alleged intentional discrimination right to a jury trial


Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) (1967)

Prohibits discrimination in employment for persons 40 and over. Prohibits mandatory retirement ages. Applies to public and private employers


Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) (1985)

Requires employers to permit employees to extend their group health insurance coverage at group rates following a qualifying event. Applies to most employers


Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (1993)

Provides that employees who have worked 12 months or 1,250 hours in the previous year are eligible to take up to 12 weeks leave during any 12 month period for the purposes of: birth, adoption, or foster care of a child; caring for a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition; or serious health condition of employee. Applies to public and private employers


(Federal Contractors) EEO-1 Report filed annually with EEOC

Requires federal contractors to submit a list of the number of employees by race and sex for each EEO job category.


(Federal Contractors) Davis Bacon Act (1931)

Requires federal contractors to pay minimum wage rates for similar jobs in the community.


(Federal Contractors) Copeland Act (1934)

Precludes federal contractors from inducing an employee to give up any part of compensation they are entitled (anti-kickback).


(Federal Contractors) Walsh-Healy Act (1936)

Requires federal contractors to pay wages equal to the area including minimum wage and overtime.


(Federal Contractors) Executive Orders 11246 (1965), 11375 (1967), 11478 (1969)

Prohibits federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. In addition, the federal contractor must develop a written affirmative action plan.


(Federal Contractors) Vocational Rehabilitation Act (1971)

Prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against people with physical or mental disabilities by requiring the contractor to take affirmative action in employing and advancing disabled individuals.


(Federal Contractors) Vietnam-Era Veterans Adjustment Act (1974)

Requires federal contractors to take affirmative action in hiring and promoting of Vietnam-era veterans. All job opportunities up to $25,000 must be registered with local employment services.


(Federal Contractors) Drug Free Workplace Act (1988)

Requires federal contractors to have a written drug-use policy and follow certain requirements to certify that they maintain a drug-free workplace.


Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification Act (WARN) (1989)

Requires employers to give notice of plant closings or layoffs. Applies to any private for-profit and not-for-profit business enterprise


EEO-1 Report filed annually with EEOC

Requires employers that are not federal contractors to submit a list of the number of employees by race and sex for each EEO job category.

The above list should not be construed as legal advice or as pertaining to specific factual situations. No general statement of law, no matter how seemingly simple, can be applied to any particular factual situation without a full, careful, and confidential analysis of all relevant facts including the employer's policies and practices as well as the applicable federal, state and local laws of the jurisdictions in which the employer operates.

© 2010 WorkPlace Synergy LLC