Pick up a newspaper or magazine and you will likely find a discussion of some work place issue, perhaps sexual harassment, affirmative action, employee privacy or work place safety. More often than not, the discussion includes the opinion that the issue is, should or soon will be regulated by Federal legislation. During the New Deal of the 1930s, Congress passed a number of laws designed to protect workers and address the conditions of the Great Depression. Since that time these laws have been amended and new ones enacted which define to a large extent the boundaries within which most of us work. Many employees may be unfamiliar with a specific law yet are often acutely aware of the rights it provides.
The purpose of this article is to examine the major Federal legislation which affects human resource management. The discussion which follows is not legal advice, nor does it represent an exhaustive list of applicable Federal laws. Rather it is a basic discussion gathered from the text of the legislation itself or material generally available from the agencies which enforce or implement the legislation. Readers requiring an in depth understanding of any of these laws should consult the appropriate agency or private legal counsel.
In many instances, states or municipalities have enacted laws with broader or more extensive coverage than the Federal contractors are covered by a variety of laws and executive order which extend beyond the legislation examined. Nonetheless, the discussion may prove useful in outlining the basic requirements of employers and pointing the direction for further information.
The Fair Labors Standards Act of 1938, or FLSA, was not the first attempt by Congress to set wage and hour standards in the private sector, but it was the broadest to be upheld by the Supreme Court. Amended numerous times since its original passage, the FLSA today represents a complex web of rules and regulations regarding employee wages and hours. With the many amendments, the Act effectively covers nearly all employers, although not all employees are covered by the FLSA.
The terms non-exempt and exempt are common in many work places to refer to employees who occupy positions which are or are not covered by the FLSA. Determining those employees exempt from the FLSA's provisions can be complex. Exemption is provided for executive, administrative and professional employees, with executives generally those in management positions. Administrative and professional exemption is determined by a number of factors including the nature of the work performed, it's relationship to the management of the enterprise, supervision required and discretion exercised and the salary level.
For those employees covered by the FLSA, or non-exempt employees, the Act provides for the payment of minimum wages, $4.25 as of April 1, 1991, and pay for overtime hours. Overtime hours are those in excess of 40 per week and must be paid at the rate of one-and-one-half times the regular rate of pay. The FLSA, as enforced, also proscribes legal forms of compensation, sets forth complex rules on how pay rates can be determined, restricts child labor and covers special situations such as payment for travel time and on-call status.
The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor is charged with administering and enforcing the FLSA. Employees can file complaints which will be investigated; remedies vary according to the severity of the violations. The most serious violations can prompt criminal charges with convictions resulting in imprisonment.
With the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, NLRA, in 1935, it became U.S. public policy to encourage collective bargaining and the Act guaranteed employees "...the right to self organization, to form, join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own …