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Navigating HR Compliance: 7 Common Legal Issues in the Workplace

As an employer, one of your greatest responsibilities is maintaining HR compliance. But managing legal and ethical issues in the workplace is a heavy lift—and the perils of non-compliance are steep.

Between federal, state, and local labor laws, there are hundreds of mandates to comply with—and they’re frequently changing. From workplace discrimination to wrongful termination, employers must know the most common legal issues in the workplace and how to safeguard against them.


7 Common Legal and Ethical Issues at Work

When employers fail to manage compliance issues at work, they risk fines, penalties, and civil lawsuits. Non-compliance can wreak havoc on productivity and morale, too.

After all, no one wants to work for “that” employer. And no business wants to be one, either. That’s why it’s critical to avoid common legal issues in the workplace—including these.


1: Harassment at Work

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment is a form of workplace discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

While there are many forms of harassment at work—including those based on race and religion—sexual harassment remains a major concern. That’s why workplace sexual harassment training is required or encouraged in a growing number of states—and why you should consider it, too.  


2: Workplace Discrimination

Workplace discrimination takes various forms, including age, pregnancy, disability, and racial discrimination, as described by the ADEA, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and more. Often, workplace discrimination issues surface around hiring and promotion decisions.

To guard against workplace discrimination, employers must ensure fair hiring practices and take pains to offer equal opportunities to all employees.


3. Hostile Work Environment

As defined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a hostile work environment is characterized by workplace discrimination and harassment, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

To prevent hostile work environments, employers should establish zero-tolerance policies and establish processes for addressing these cases.


4. Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination occurs when employees are fired for illegal reasons, such as workplace discrimination and retaliation.

To comply with wrongful termination laws and avoid breach of contract, employers should develop meticulous termination procedures, documenting performance issues, and ensuring that employment decisions are based on legitimate reasons.

5. Privacy Issues

Employee privacy rights are vital in the workplace, especially in this era of increased digital surveillance and monitoring. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) governs privacy concerns at work, generally prohibiting employers from accessing employee emails and phone calls without consent.

However, there are exceptions, which is why employers must find the balance between ensuring security and respecting employee privacy. Putting clear policies and practices in place helps address this legal issue in the workplace.

 6. Intellectual Property

Every business has a right to protect its intellectual property, but not at the expense of employee privacy. To that end, employers may leverage tools like non-disclosure agreements to protect trade secrets but must tread carefully, especially when employee monitoring is deemed necessary.  

Most employers rely on legal counsel to help them develop a balanced approach to protecting intellectual property, which may include employee training and obtaining informed consent.

 7. Specific Legal Issues in the Workplace

Depending upon the nature of your business, you may have more specific compliance issues at work. For example, an employer with a largely hourly workforce must comply with wage and hour regulations, such as calculating overtime pay and classifying employees correctly. And in some industries, where physical risk to workers is higher, workplace safety and OSHA compliance are a more pressing priority.

Remote Work Legal Issues

If you manage a remote or hybrid workforce, you likely also have specific remote work legal issues to address, such as maintaining data security and protecting employee privacy. Because the line between work and home life is often blurred, you may also need to guard against off-the-clock work and unpaid overtime.

That’s why it’s important to establish clear expectations for remote work hours, time tracking, and record-keeping—while requiring employees to observe the same anti-harassment policies required in the physical workplace.

Defining Legal Issues at Work

Achieving and maintaining HR compliance is an ongoing commitment. For many employers, it translates to developing a comprehensive process for:

  • Staying abreast of federal, state, and local legislation.
  • Guarding against noncompliance through proactive workplace policies—communicated clearly and repeatedly to employees.
  • Training managers on key legal and ethical issues in the workplace, such as workplace discrimination and wrongful discrimination.
  • Providing employees with a clear, direct process for reporting issues like bullying and harassment.
  • Developing best practices for investigating and taking action in such cases.
  • Tracking the company’s compliance challenges and continually making improvements.

HR plays a leading role in maintaining labor compliance. But with everything else on HR’s plate, that’s a very big ask.


How Namely Can Help Navigate HR Compliance


At Namely, we know firsthand how challenging it can be to manage legal issues in the workplace. That’s why we offer employers both advanced HR technology and dedicated services designed to improve and maintain compliance.


From our anonymous employee reporting solution…to more than 300 training/compliance courses…to unlimited access to expert HR advisors, we can help you manage your trickiest compliance issues at work. Learn more about our multi-faceted compliance solution here.  

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