Legal Links for the HR Generalist

August 13, 2000
There was a quotation I'd once heard as being attributed to well-known genius Albert Einstein. He stated that he had no real need to remember long lists of telephone numbers; he only needed to remember where he put the telephone directory.

Regardless of when he said it, or even if he said it at all, the wisdom of that statement is completely applicable to Human Resources. It would be impossible, and I submit unnecessary, to memorize every facet of every regulation, rule, law, case, decision, procedure and policy, but it's not impossible to know where you can find the information you need, and have it available.

As much as we in HR would like to boast of our positions as "strategic partners," we must also realize that the traditional role of Human Resources -- the hiring, firing, policy-quoting entity at the end of the hall, or the workplace's equivalent of "the principal’s office" -- is still alive and well, and needs the right tools to provide the services required by the organization.

Close your eyes and think of the items that come to mind when envisioning the task of assembling or fixing something in your home. You would probably visualize the obvious and familiar items: hammer, screwdriver, wrench, pliers, among others. You can make or fix a lot of things just using these basics. With this same idea in mind, here are a few basic tools you can put to work in HR.


A Keyboard is Key

Aside from making data or information storage infinitely easier, a computer with access to the Internet is invaluable in doing research. Manuals, reprints, articles, regulations -- they are all there and available without taking up room on your bookshelf. Although there are many successful HR professionals without access to the Internet, it is a timesaver that cannot be overlooked.

Here are sites to bookmark that can be indispensable:

  • This new government Web site has a ton of information for employers and employees. Scroll down to "Rights and Protections" and you'll find great links to labor law, discrimination law, labor-management information and more.
  • The Government Printing Office, through the Superintendent of Documents, operates 24 bookstores across the country from where reprints and informational publications (such as the ones mentioned later in this guide) can be ordered. To find the mailing address of your local office, along with directions, will provide contact information and hours of operation.
  • On the state level, bookmark sites (where available) for your state's Department of Labor; the Unemployment Division (if available separately), your state's legislature or General Assembly, and the Worker's Compensation Commission. It's a good idea to have e-mail addresses for your legislators, also.

I've also come out looking like a hero for tapping into the state's Department of Transportation's web site, and downloading bus schedules and state-subsidized ride-pooling information. For businesses that may reorganize facilities or shift-schedules within a locality, transportation issues are of prime importance to those who depend on public conveyance to get to work.


Up There Sitting On The Shelf

For those who do not have access to the Internet, or those, such as I, who can find something faster in my library than waiting for a network connection, you will be hard pressed to find reference materials more useful than these. Most are available at little or no charge:

FMLA: Federal Regulations, Part 825: "The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993". Available through the Government Printing Office, you would request WH Publication 1419. In plain language, this publication explains the text and terminology of the law with a question and answer format at the end of the booklet. In my opinion, this should be on the "Best Seller" list for anyone responsible for HR.

Overtime and "The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938": Also available through the Government Printing Office, request WH Publication 1318. This is a bit heavy reading and not really in plain language, but is understandable. It does NOT go into the necessary detail for exempt/non-exempt issues. For those, you'll need all of the following:

CFR, Title 29, Part 541, WH Publication 1281, "Defining the Terms – Executive, Administrative, Professional, and Outside Sales";

CFR, Title 29, Part 516, WH Publication 1261, "Records To Be Kept by Employers Under The FLSA";

CFR, Title 29, Part 778, WH Publication 1262, "Regulations, Part 778: Interpretive Bulletin On Overtime Compensation." This is another that should be on the "Best Seller" list. Written in reasonably understandable language with examples, it will help explain different overtime computations.

Federal Register, Part III, Vol. 56, No. 39, CFR, Title 29, "Computer-Related Occupations; Exemptions from Minimum Wage and Overtime Compensation Requirements of the Fair labor Standards Act." This will explain the allowable exemptions for some computer-related positions.

Child labor: WH-1330, "Child Labor Requirements in Nonagricultural Occupations Under the Fair Labor Standards Act."

OSHA: CFR, Title 29, Parts 1900 to 1910.1; Parts 1910.1 to End; Parts 1911 to 1925; and Parts 1927 to End. These books constitute the "OSHA manuals." Additionally, construction companies need Part 1926, and longshoring companies need Part 1918;

EEOC: The text of "EEOC Enforcement Guidelines on the Americans With Disabilities Act and Psychiatric Disabilities." This was available for download from the EEOC's web site;

ADA: American With Disabilities Act Technical Assistance Manual (Title 1); this explains the terminology of the Act and provides section-by-section interpretive guidance. The resources listed for training, examples, and help with accommodations are priceless. It was available from the Government Printing Office, or Superintendent of Documents, PO Box 371954, Pittsburgh PA, 15250-7954 at a cost of $25.00 when it was first released. It pays for itself with the first use, and is another on my "Best Seller" list.

Keep in mind that for every federal regulation you request, also request its state-law counterpart from the corresponding department in your state's hierarchy. Many states, especially in the case of leave legislation, may offer a comparison between the state and federal version.

Employment legislation that involves provision of insurance benefits like COBRA and HIIPA, if not downloaded from the government's site, are generally available in plain language from your insurance carrier.

Are you a non-medical staffer responsible for cost-containment or case-evaluation in an organization that may be fully or partially self-insured for Workers Compensation? Aside from having copies or reprints of the regulations concerning the rights of injured employees and the responsibilities to them, I would also suggest an investment in a "Physician's Desk Reference."

A "PDR," as it's commonly called, can be an invaluable resource, not in questioning any drug's administration, but in verifying it's application to the condition for which you are paying. Some receipts from pharmacies may include the purchase of other medications or items for which you are not responsible.


Don't Forget the Obvious

Many of the questions handled from day-to-day are not going to revolve around the Congress. They'll be more likely to center on how many absences constitute a warning, or whether the company will be closed on the day after Thanksgiving this year.

Have a copy of your policy manual handy, and some extra copies of the handbook. If the question concerns something that's covered in the handbook, discuss it and offer another copy (with the appropriate signed receipt, of course). If you have a collective bargaining agreement, access to a copy of that agreement may be helpful.

If you offer health insurance benefits, have a telephone number handy for questions if your carrier is the source of answers; if you have a benefits specialist or handle questions in your office, a current copy of the master policy is advisable. The same suggestion applies to retirement plans and 401K; have a copy of the plan handy, or the number where the employee can get the information.


Back to That Telephone Directory

This is by no means all any HR professional or department will need. A host of acronyms like ERISA, OWBPA, and ADEA and others still require your compliance. But it's the start of your toolkit and you'll be adding more tools as you go. And don't overlook some of the most accessible resources: your company's attorney and others in Human Resources. They're generally just a phone call away.

Now, where did Albert leave that phonebook?