10 Employment Laws that Supervisors Need to Know

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10 Employment Laws that Supervisors Need to Know

Supervisors and managers have a shared responsibility with HR in making sure that their interactions and relations with employees are compliant with federal and state employment laws. Here are ten (10) of the most important employment laws that supervisors need to be aware of and the major responsibilities that supervisors typically are responsible for in ensuring compliance.

1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Purpose:

To prohibit job discrimination in the workplace

Overview:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act covers an employer who has fifteen (15) or more employees and prohibits discrimination against any individual on the bases of race, religion, color, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), sexual orientation, parental status, national origin, age, disability, family medical history or genetic information, political affiliation, military service, or any other non-merit based factor. The law also protects individuals from harassment in the workplace.

Supervisor Responsibilities:  

Supervisors must treat all employees and applicants consistently and equally, without regard to their race, color, religion, gender, national origin or any other characteristics that are protected under law. Supervisors are not to base any employment decisions on these protected characteristics, cannot deny opportunities to an individual because of their characteristics, and cannot retaliate against an employee. Supervisors are to treat all employees respectfully and avoid unwanted/unwelcomed behavior that constitutes harassment.

2. FLSA

Purpose:

To establish a minimum and overtime wage for nonexempt employees

Overview:

The Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) establishes standards for minimum wage (The 2013 federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and Ohio's is $8.10), overtime pay (one-and-one-half-times the regular rate of pay), and child labor, and defines which employees are considered exempt and non-exempt for the purposes of carrying out the law. The law also addresses what work time needs to be paid, including waiting, on-call, training/meetings, and travel time, as well as rest periods, meals, and breaks.

Supervisor Responsibilities:

Supervisors must ensure that employees are paid properly in accordance with the law's provisions and for all hours that they work (particularly overtime). Supervisors are often responsible for managing and making sure that all work hours of non-exempt employees are recorded and verified. In addition, supervisors must understand which employees are exempt and non-exempt and should work with HR before making changes to their employees' essential duties, which could affect their exemption status.

3. FMLA

Purpose:

To provide job-protected leave for family and medical reasons

Overview:

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

Supervisor Responsibilities:

When employees request medical leave or time off to address medical issues, supervisors must refer them to HR. Supervisors also must listen for requests that would meet the FMLA criteria (such as references to a health condition or family member's health condition) since employees don't need to use the words "FMLA leave" to gain protection under the law.

Supervisors are to maintain contact with employees on leave and remain informed of changes to their condition or leave, and communicate those changes to their HR department. While employees are on leave, supervisors must be cognizant of employment actions (termination, discipline, etc.).

Finally, supervisors also need to follow privacy, confidentiality, recordkeeping, and other FMLA-related responsibilities that their organization has in place.

4. ADA

Purpose:

To prevent discrimination of individuals with disabilities in the workplace

Overview:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on a disability that substantially limits a major life activity. The law also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer ("undue hardship").

Supervisor Responsibilities:

Supervisors need to recognize the need for a reasonable accommodation and address employees' requests for reasonable accommodations. Supervisors play a key role in the interactive process of discussing what accommodations may fit the individual. Supervisors must also address the day-to-day management and administration of employee accommodations (such as flexible schedules, assignment modifications, etc.). In addition, supervisors often must work with HR to identify the essential functions of the job, which aid the ADA compliance process.

5. ADEA

Purpose:

To discourage treating employees or applicants less favorably because of their age

Overview:

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employment discrimination against anyone at least 40 years of age in hiring, promotions, wages, benefits or terminations.

Supervisor Responsibilities:

Supervisors must never take a person's age or proximity to retirement into account when making employment decisions such as assignments, hiring, firing, pay, benefits, or promotions, training programs, and other terms and conditions of employment. Supervisors must never assume that older workers can no longer do a particular task or job, communicate in a way that implies bias, replace older workers with younger ones for illegitimate reasons, or discipline older workers more harshly.

6. EPA

Purpose:

To discourage paying those who perform the same job differently based on gender

Overview:

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same establishment who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions. 

Supervisor Responsibilities:

Although supervisors are often not responsible for deciding compensation, in collaboration with their HR department, supervisors should ensure that employees of both genders are paid equally if they are in the same job, and should take any complaints of pay discrimination to HR. When faced with an employee inquiry regarding different pay for the same job title or role, supervisors should be prepared to point to varying levels of responsibility, duties, skill requirements, or education requirements.

7. OSHA

Purpose:

To help ensure safety as well as to prevent illnesses and injuries in the workplace

Overview:

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) is the primary federal law which governs occupational health and safety in the workplace. It ensures that employers provide employees with a safe and healthy work environment free from recognized hazards, such as exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions.

Supervisor Responsibilities:

Supervisors must provide employees with a work environment that is free of recognized hazards that could cause serious physical harm, and also need to comply with occupational safety and health standards. Supervisors may also be responsible for ensuring that employees receive safety training, assessing hazards in the work area, determining the type of protective equipment needed, investigating incidents and inspecting equipment, and reporting all accidents and injuries that employees have at work.

8. PDA

Purpose:

To prohibit job discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions

Overview:

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or a pregnancy related condition. Women who are pregnant or affected by pregnancy-related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations. This law applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

If an employer does not have a leave policy, female employees are entitled to take leave for a “reasonable period of time” for pregnancy and childbirth.  According to statements by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, a “reasonable period of time” is a minimum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave for “pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.”  In addition, the Commission has determined that at the end of the leave, the employee must be reinstated to “her original position or to a position of like status and pay, without loss of service credits or other benefits.”

Supervisor Responsibilities:

Supervisors should treat pregnant employees the same as other employees with temporary disabilities on the basis of their ability or inability to work. This includes requests for accommodations in order to perform the essential duties of the job. For example, if you provide light duty for an employee who can't lift boxes because of a bad back, you must make similar arrangements for a pregnant employee. Similar to other laws, supervisors should not discriminate against pregnant employees in terms of hiring, firing, compensation, training, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.

9. NLRA

Purpose:

To protect employees' rights to collectively bargain and engage in concerted activities

Overview:

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) defines the rights of employees and employers, including their right to collectively bargain and engage in concerted activities such as grievances, strikes, etc. for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection.

Supervisor Responsibilities:

Supervisors need to understand employees' rights relative to the NLRA, specifically to engage in collective bargaining and protected concerted activities (such as complaints about unfair labor practices). Supervisors are prohibited from taking adverse action against employees who engage in such activities, such as discrimination, retaliation, interference, or restraint.

10. GINA

Purpose:

To prohibit discrimination of employees or applicants because of genetic information

Overview:

Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits discrimination against employees or applicants because of genetic information and it prohibits employers from using genetic information to make employment decisions.

Supervisor Responsibilities:

If supervisors inadvertently become aware of an employee's family medical history or information about a medical condition in an employee's family through the process of FMLA or other medical leave, this information cannot be used to discriminate against the employee. Under GINA, supervisors are also prohibited from harassing an employee or retaliating against an employee because of their genetic information.

Sources: EEOC, DOL, NLRB, SHRM Federal Discrimination Laws Training for Supervisors, HR Specialist


Every supervisor should understand the basics of these ten (10) employment laws, although be aware that there are other federal and state employment laws that may also touch supervisors. For this reason, it's critically important to train your supervisors and managers on employment law, and provide continual coaching and development to maintain compliance.

Please note that by providing you with research information that may be contained in this article, ERC is not providing a qualified legal opinion. As such, research information that ERC provides to its members should not be relied upon or considered a substitute for legal advice. The information that we provide is for general employer use and not necessarily for individual application.

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