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5 Legal Issues Faced in Human Resources


— July 16, 2019

Human Resources professionals often face competing responsibilities: duty to company, but also to employees. There are legal issues they must avoid.


Having in mind that employees are the most valuable resource of any company, it is a mission of Human Resources experts to help employees reach their true potential. Nevertheless, HR professionals often face difficult decisions, which can have a significant impact both on the lives of employees and the success of the company. Although job descriptions of HR experts can vary significantly, one thing is certain – they have to make sure each of their own and their companies’ actions comply with the positive legislation which regulates the employees’ rights and employers’ obligations. These are some of the most important legal issues you should focus on.

Confidentiality

One of the basic principles in HR is maintaining confidentiality, as non-compliance can lead to serious damage to your reputation and also result in a lawsuit. All the sensitive data on your employees, such as social security numbers, background checks, health records, performance, and work-place injury reports should be considered confidential. Employers should develop procedures for safeguarding this data, as well as notifying their workforce if a data breach occurs. On the other hand, HR must also protect the confidentiality of data which is available only to the management staff, such as strategies or proprietary data.

However, being an HR officer, your position can sometimes be challenging, as some of the claims and complaints your employees share while asking for confidentiality have to result in further actions, such as workplace investigations or disciplinary measures. In sensitive cases which oblige you to take legal action, no promises of confidentiality should be given. Try to find a balance between disclosing information on a need-to-know basis, while hearing about the issue from all the relevant parties. 

Employee benefits

As an HR officer, you need to make sure all your employees enjoy benefits guaranteed by the employment law. The most important benefits which are required by the legislation are:

  • Salary,
  • Superannuation,
  • Annual leave and sick leave,
  • Parental leave,
  • Long service leave.

    Chasing money graphic depicting a man in a suit with a pole down his back from which hangs a dollar sign; image by Mohamed Hassan, via Pixabay.com.
    Chasing money graphic depicting a man in a suit with a pole down his back from which hangs a dollar sign; image by Mohamed Hassan, via Pixabay.com.

You are basically free to agree on a salary and put it in a contract, as long as it is beyond a minimum wage and compliant with the Fair Work Act. 

Apart from these benefits which are legally binding to every company, as an HR specialist, you can think of other benefits which could stimulate your employees and boost their efficiency, too. Such benefits can be flexible working hours, wellness programs or free snacks, whatever you think your employees will love.

Workplace discrimination

In the year 2017-2018 only, the Australian Human Rights Commission received 14,164 inquiries on discrimination and 2,046 complaints. In terms of employment, most complaints were made under sex discrimination, followed by age, disability, and racial discrimination. Among the crucial legal guidelines for an HR officer to master, anti-discriminatory acts come first, as charges of discrimination are quite common.
Your business practices should be compliant with the anti-discriminatory law through all stages of the employment, starting with the pre-hiring process, up to the termination of the employment. If your employee feels that they were treated unfairly and suffered an adverse action because of their protected status, such as employment termination or lack of promotion, your company will have to prove that such a decision was unavoidable for legitimate business reasons. 

Knowing how to individually approach the needs of each of your employees, while accomplishing the business goals of your company, is a skill every HR professional needs to polish. And so is utilizing the existing resources to become barrier-free to all of your employees, which may, for example, include partnering with a disability employment services provider in order to deal with disability in the workplace. Also, since creating a positive and productive culture and establishing the right behavioral standards is an employers’ responsibility, HR should recommend a diversity training program to help the company overcome any possible discriminatory and harassment issues.

Workplace safety

Personal injuries are common, as well as different charges and lawsuits addressing a company’s negligence to provide safety in the workplace. Being an HR professional, you need to make certain your company is doing its best to create a culture of safety at work as well as that all the staff received proper training on such issues. 

Also, in order to avoid the risk of lawsuits regarding the matters of workplace safety, and other areas which can be a subject of dispute, it’s important to document everything and to make sure all the regulations and practices are in compliance with applicable laws. 

Labour rights

There are many other rights employees are entitled to apart from the benefits we’ve mentioned earlier. One of those rights is overtime pay, which usually brings a premium. Unpaid overtime hours are often a reason for a lawsuit, as a company needs to provide mechanisms for monitoring overtime working hours, as well as to ensure employees are paid for them. Another common reason for a lawsuit is wrongful termination of employment, as an employee may bring such charges if they think termination is a result of retaliation, for example. The best way to prevent unpleasant consequences is to be sure you have accurate records, which can prove the termination was legal. If the termination was a case of redundancy, your employee may be entitled to redundancy pay, so you will need to follow the whole process through.

It is important to keep yourself informed about all the legal HR issues your company can face so that you can have the right procedures in place and handle tough situations in a fair and lawful manner, for the benefit of your employees and your company, too.

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