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Legal Issues in Human Resources Management. There are numerous laws, both federal and state, that regulate the:. Hiring and management of employees Compensation of employees Medical leave for employees Employee workplace Discharge of employees.

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there are numerous laws both federal and state that regulate the
There are numerous laws, both federal and state, thatregulate the:
  • Hiring and management of employees
  • Compensation of employees
  • Medical leave for employees
  • Employee workplace
  • Discharge of employees

Employer optometrists must adhere to these laws.


Employment is based in contract. In a commercial setting, the employer conceives of a productive activity, generally with the intention of creating profits, and the employee contributes labor to the enterprise, usually in return for payment of wages.In the United States, the "standard" employment contract is considered to be at will, meaning that the employer and employee are both free to terminate the employment at any time and for any cause, or for no cause at all.

However, exceptions to the “at will” rule can be found in various federal employment law statutes, including:
  • the Fair Labor and Standards Act, passed in 1938
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and amendments)
  • Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990
  • the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993
  • numerous state laws that offer additional protection
several federal laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace
Several federal laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace:
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin;
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from gender-based wage discrimination;
  • the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from age-related discrimination;
  • Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments.
because of these laws it is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment including
Because of these laws, it is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment, including:
  • hiring and firing
  • compensation, assignment, or classification of employees
  • transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall
  • job advertisements
  • recruitment
  • testing
  • use of facilities
  • training and apprenticeship programs
  • fringe benefits
  • pay, retirement plans, and disability leave

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) requires employers to assure that employees hired are legally authorized to work in the US. However, an employer who requests employment verification only for individuals of a particular national origin, or individuals who appear to be or sound foreign, may violate both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and IRCA; thus verification must be obtained from all applicants and employees.An area of inquiry that cannot be pursued when hiring employees is an applicant’s disability.

americans with disabilities act
Americans with Disabilities Act
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted by the US Congress to provide protection against discrimination involving the impaired.
  • Title 1 of the Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, for both employees and applicants for employment.
  • A person is considered to have a “disability” under the Act if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (working, walking, seeing, hearing, major bodily functions).
americans with disabilities act1
Americans with Disabilities Act
  • The ADA was amended in 2008, and now requires employers to ignore mitigating measures used by employees such as hearing aids, mobility aids and medication. For example, a diabetic employee would have to be evaluated as if the condition was not treated (even if taking insulin or drugs). The only exception is that employers can include corrective eyeglasses or contact lenses when making vision function disability decisions.
  • Thus an employee can be considered disabled regardless of whether the impairment substantially limits a life activity.
americans with disabilities act2
Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA requires an employer to consider for hire or accommodate a “qualified individual” who can perform the essential functions of a job. The determination of the essential functions of a job is therefore important, and it is appropriate that these functions be identified in a job description or analysis.

Therefore, job descriptions are also essential!

americans with disabilities act3
Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA prohibits an employer from asking during the interview process if an individual is disabled. This prohibition includes inquiries about an applicant’s past medical history (hospitalizations, illnesses, absences from work, worker’s compensation claims) and requests that an applicant undergo a medical or physical examination (except for drug screening). Once an applicant has been hired, however, medical questions and examinations are permissible as along as they are required of all employees in similar positions.

americans with disabilities act4
Americans with Disabilities Act

A disabled employee may ask for a reasonable accommodation and the employer must provide it if it helps the employee perform essential functions of the job, without undue hardship or expense to the employer. A disabled employee who is performing poorly should be offered an accommodation by the employer; if the accommodation is refused, the employee’s ADA protection is lost.

Civil remedies for violations include back pay, reinstatement, and compensatory and punitive damages against the employer.

the family and medical leave act
The Family and Medical Leave Act
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed by the US Congress in 1993 to allow eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave every year.
  • Eligible employees are those who have worked for the employer at least 12 months (1,250 hours).
  • Allowable reasons for leave include serious health problems encountered by the employee, the care of the employee’s spouse, children or parents, or the adoption or birth of a child.
the family and medical leave act1
The Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Employees who take leave under the FMLA cannot lose their jobs, seniority, health insurance, or accrued benefits during their absence.
  • The FMLA applies only to employers who have at least 50 employees, which would eliminate all but the largest optometry practices from its provisions.
  • However, medical (maternity) leave is a required benefit of employer-provided health insurance in most states, including Alabama.
maternity leave is regulated through several federal laws that apply to health insurance
Maternity leave is regulated through several federal laws that apply to health insurance:
  • Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act

These laws were discussed when we reviewed health insurance.


Employers have an obligation to maintain a safe workplace.Employees who are injured on the job or contract a work-related illness and suffer temporary or permanent impairment may file for state worker’s compensation benefits (discussed previously under professional liability insurance).Federal regulation of the workplace is the responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970). It has limited applicability to optometry practices.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Requirements for Protection from Blood Borne Pathogens:
  • OSHA has published regulations that must be observed by employees who come in contact with blood borne pathogens (hepatitis B, HIV). These regulations apply to optometry practices.
  • Requirements include methods that reduce exposure to pathogens when drawing blood (such as wearing gloves when performing finger sticks for diabetes), the appropriate disposal of needles and sharps, the proper management of spills and waste, and the protocol to follow if an employee is exposed to a pathogen.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Requirements for Protection from Blood Borne Pathogens:
  • The regulation also requires that warnings be given to employees who face a risk of exposures, and that confidential records be maintained by employers for employees who suffer an exposure (these records must be kept for the period of employment plus 30 years).
  • Although the recordkeeping requirements apply to OSHA-regulated private sector employers with more than 10 employees, “low hazard” employers (such as optometrists) do not have to comply with the copious OSHA reporting requirements for injuries (unless there is death).
  • The AOA has published a manual that can assist employers in complying with this federal law.
sexual harassment
Sexual Harassment
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of theCivil Rights Act of 1964.
  • The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has defined sexual harassment as: "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature ... when ... submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions... or such conduct has the purpose or effect of ... creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment."
sexual harassment1
Sexual Harassment
  • This definition is based upon US Supreme Court decisions recognizing two basic types of sexual harassment: (1) "Quid pro quo" harassment occurs when decisions regarding employment are promised, threatened, or given, based upon whether one or more employees will submit to sexually-oriented conduct. (2) "Hostile environment" sexual harassment occurs where the sexually-oriented conduct creates an offensive and unpleasant working environment.
sexual harassment2
Sexual Harassment
  • If an employer is aware of a hostile environment, and has not taken any appropriate action to correct the problem, then the employer may be held liable for the harassment. However, an employer cannot be held responsible if the employer is not made aware of the situation.
  • Harassment can involve men or women; the harasser does not have to be of the opposite sex. The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee. The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
sexual harassment3
Sexual Harassment
  • The federal law only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. However, most states have also passed laws that apply to improper sexual conduct.
  • In Alabama, sexual harassment claims may be brought under the legal theory of “invasion of privacy”; an employer with one or more employees falls under the law.
fair labor standards act
Fair Labor Standards Act
  • A minimum wage was established in the United States in 1938 under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA)—it was $.25 per hour.
  • The national hourly minimum wage was raised to $6.55 as of July 24, 2008, and increased again to $7.25 a year later in 2009.
  • During President Clinton’s administration (1993) states were given the power to set their minimum wages above the federal level. As of 2008, 32 states had done so—and more changes are likely; Alabama is not yet among them.
fair labor standards act1
Fair Labor Standards Act
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) also establishes overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards in the US workplace.
  • Workers are entitled to overtime pay of not less than 1 ½ times the regular rate of pay for each hour worked over 40 hours per week.
fair labor standards act2
Fair Labor Standards Act
  • The FLSA requires employers to keep records on wages, hours, and other items, as specified in Department of Labor recordkeeping regulations. Most of the information is of the kind generally maintained by employers in ordinary business practice and in compliance with other laws and regulations.
  • The records do not have to be kept in any particular form.
fair labor standards act3
Fair Labor Standards Act
  • The law also regulates the employment of minors.These provisions are designed to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prohibit their employment under conditions or in jobs that are detrimental to their health or well being. These provisions include restrictions on hours of work for minors under age 16.
  • There are a number of employment practices that the law does not regulate. FLSA does not require vacations, holidays, severance, or sick pay; meal or rest periods; pay raises or fringe benefits; or a discharge notice, reason for discharge, or immediate payment of final wages to terminated employees.
fair labor standards act4
Fair Labor Standards Act
  • Also, the FLSA does not limit the number of hours in a day or days in a week an employee can be required or scheduled to work, if the employee is at least 16 years old. These matters are for agreement between the employer and the employees.
  • However, overtime pay is required if the work week exceeds 40 hours.
because of federal and state laws employees cannot be discharged strictly because of
Because of federal and state laws, employees cannot be discharged strictly because of:
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity or national origin
  • Religion
  • Disability (unless ADA provisions have been complied with or an accommodation refused)
  • Reprisal (for some act of the employee, such as reporting illegal activity by the employer)

Discharge of employees may result in the awarding of unemployment compensation.Unemployment insurance provides workers, whose jobs have been terminated through no fault of their own, monetary payments for a given period of time or until they find a new job. Therefore, an employer would be wise to consider implementing a "probationary period" during which the employee will be evaluated--but terminated from employment if appropriate--before becoming eligible for unemployment compensation.


An employee is disqualified from unemployment compensation if the employee leaves work "voluntarily and without good cause." Therefore, if it appears that an employee is headed toward termination, the employer may wish to explain that to the employee and give the employee an opportunity to resign before any final employment decision is made. If the employee does so, the employee may thereby be disqualified from unemployment compensation.


Office policies should be in writing and compiled in a handbook. These policies should include “voluntary discharge”. For example, a policy stating “Two unexcused absences in any work week shall be deemed a voluntary resignation” can be used to discharge an employee who chronically fails to report for work. Such a dismissal does not allow the discharged employee to qualify for unemployment compensation.


To dismiss an employee for “misconduct” the employer will be required to show that there was a rule or policy that the employee deliberately violated or willfully disregarded. This is much more easily achieved if there is a handbook given to employees.To receive unemployment compensation benefits, an employee must prove that there was "good cause" to quit. To refute this an employer should adopt an internal grievance procedure or "open door policy" by which disputed actions and working conditions can be brought to the employer’s attention and, if appropriate, corrected. An employee usually will be denied unemployment compensation if available procedures are not used to seek resolution of complaints.


Unemployment insurance is based on both federal and state statutes. The program was established by the Social Security Act in 1935, and much of the federal program is implemented through the 1935 Federal Unemployment Tax Act. Each state administers its own separate unemployment insurance program.The proceeds from unemployment taxes (6.2% of the first $7,000 in wages) are deposited in a federal Unemployment Trust Fund (the wage base can be higher for state contributions). Each state has a separate account in the Fund to which deposits are made.


State employer contributions are normally based on the amount of wages paid to employees, the amount that has been contributed to the unemployment fund, and the amount that any discharged employees have received from the fund. Thus any unemployment compensation awarded to discharged employees is charged to the employer's account, thereby increasing the employer' tax rate and resulting in higher unemployment tax payments.


If an employee is discharged for a dishonest or criminal act connected to work, or for drug use, benefits cannot be claimed. Other misconduct may result in loss of benefits, but the loss may be 50% rather than 100%, depending on the circumstances.The employer may present evidence at a benefits hearing to prove that the employee quit without good cause, or was discharged due to a dishonest act, or because of willful failure to perform the duties of the employment. Thus documentation of employee conduct and discharge must be maintained.