The Employment Law Basics Every Leader Should Know

Last Updated on April 18, 2023 by Owen McGab Enaohwo

Within an organization, it may be the compliance personnel that creates policies to reflect the ethical and legal standards that employees are expected to adhere to. It is up to managers, however, to interpret, apply and execute these legal standards and policies pragmatically in response to the situations that their employees encounter.

The law holds organizations (that is, employers) responsible for ensuring that all employee’s rights are protected. Employees, however, can only act through their managers and leaders.

Managers, then, are on the front lines when it comes to ensuring that their organization follows employment laws appropriately. Therefore, to be an effective leader requires a high-level of awareness when it comes to up-to-date concepts regarding employment law.

Here are the top employment law basics that every leader needs to understand.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash


Organizations must ensure that they prioritize workplace safety at all times. By law, it is a requirement of the Occupational Health and Safety Act that employees be provided with a safe workplace. This includes being given the appropriate compliance training for both managers and employees.

If a worker is injured whilst working despite all safety precautions being in order, they may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation, which could include recovery time off work, or even permanent disability payments.

Managers must never discourage employees from taking all proper safety precautions. They must never penalize their workers for exercising their right to receive workers’ compensation or for refusing to work in unsafe conditions. No matter what other quotas or production goals are pressing, the law will not allow for any excuses to be made for cutting corners when it comes to the safety of employees.

Discrimination and harassment

Employers are not permitted to refuse to hire, fire, limit employment benefits, pay, or opportunities, or in any way discriminate based on:

Religion, race, color, sex, or place of origin

Discrimination pertains to any harrassment based upon any of these protected factors. For example, sexual harrassment falls under harrassment based on sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Particular laws relate to workers over the age of 40, but any age-related discrimination is against the law. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).


This includes failing to provide any reasonable accommodation to allow the worker to perform the duties of their job. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

Genetic information

Genetic tests or any other medical information pertaining to the worker or their family, including any disclosures that are not business-related. Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).

Immigration status

Whilst it is true that employers are not allowed to hire anyone who is not legally authorized to work in the U.S., they are also not permitted to discriminate against a worker based upon their immigration status. Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA).

Employee’s rights to get together to discuss or attempt to improve their working conditions

This applies whether they belong to a union or not. National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Leaders need to focus on supporting employees to best do their jobs, and not on any characteristics that the law protects. They must treat all employees equally and fairly, and never retaliate against a worker for making any complaints about harassment or discrimination.

Compensation and overtime

Employers may, at times, require that employees work extra hours, especially during a time-sensitive project or when facing a looming deadline. By law, managers must keep track of the number of hours that an employee works, and ensure that they permit workers to take any break times that are mandated by federal and state law.

The federal minimum wage is set by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), requiring that covered employees be paid time-and-a-half when they work any overtime (more than 40 hours per week).

Not all employees, however, are covered by the FLSA, or state law equivalents. These workers are deemed ‘exempt’ employees. Compliance personnel and HR are typically responsible for determining which employees are exempt, according to particular legal criteria. This means that leaders need to have an up-to-date understanding as to which employees are not exempt from such laws before modifying break times or assigning any extra work hours.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Protected Leave Laws

Employees eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may take time off for the birth or adoption of their child, or to care for themselves or a family member, in the event of a serious health condition.

Meanwhile, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), protects veterans from retaliation and discrimination against taking time off in order to serve in the armed services.

Managers must treat employees who need to take any kind of protected leave no differently from any workers who do not. They must also never penalize an employee for taking protected leave.

Local and state laws

It is important to remember that many cities and states have similar laws, some of which are stricter than the laws set at a federal level. It is essential that leaders familiarize themselves not only with federal employment law but what they must do to ensure that they also comply with state and local laws, too.

Author Bio

Ian Linton is a professional business-to-business writer with more than 20 years of experience working for global companies Barclays, IBM, BP, Shell, Cisco, AT&T, and Ford of Europe, as well as writing for the SME market. He is the author of 23 books for major business publishers on developing business skills and has contributed hundreds of ‘how to’ articles on small business start-ups, management, and development to SME websites. He writes in a ‘project’ style to help non-specialists develop new skills in areas such as finance, marketing, customer service, and management of technology.

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