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Easy steps you can take now that will save you from legal hardship down the road

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, human resources (HR) practices are subject to a myriad of legal challenges.

Whether you have 10 employees or 500 employees, protecting your HR practices from legal pitfalls is crucial to ensure compliance with employment laws and regulations while maintaining a positive, ethical and productive work environment.

Maintaining fair and consistent employee practices is the cornerstone of fostering a healthy and productive work environment. Consistency ensures that rules, policies and procedures are applied uniformly, minimizing confusion and appearances of discrimination and biases.


By upholding equal opportunities for all employees — regardless of their background or position — employers can enhance employee morale, trust and loyalty. Fair and consistent practices also serve as a shield against potential legal challenges, promoting a culture of compliance and accountability.

Here are some key considerations and actionable steps to minimize legal risks in your HR practices:

  • Stay informed. Regularly educate yourself and your managers on relevant employment laws, regulations and industry best practices. Keep up with any legal updates or changes that may impact your organization.
  • Introduce an employee handbook. An employee handbook outlines the policies and expectations for employee behavior, responsibilities and rights. Federal and state laws should be considered when developing it. Legal counsel should always be used for developing and communicating an employee handbook, and it should be updated on a regular basis.
  • Ensure wage and hour compliance. Review your state requirements for wage and hour laws, including minimum wage, overtime requirements, and meal and rest break requirements. Minimum wage laws change frequently and some cities and municipalities may have different minimum wage requirements than the state. Employers should keep accurate records of employees’ work hours and pay. Review your state record retention polices for how long these records must be kept.
  • Correctly classify employees. Properly classify employees as either exempt (from overtime) or nonexempt. A nonexempt employee is entitled to overtime pay for all time worked beyond 40 hours (unless state laws require otherwise). Job titles do not dictate exemption status — job duties dictate the status. Misclassification can lead to wage and hour claims.
  • Manage employee performance. Performance management plays a crucial role in maximizing employee potential and fosters a culture of continuous improvement. It provides a framework for setting expectations, evaluating progress and enabling employees to thrive. Properly managed performance reviews and documentation help ensure fairness and provide justification for any employment decisions.
  • Initiate anti-discrimination and harassment training. Conduct regular training sessions for employees and managers to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Create a culture of respect and inclusivity within the workplace. Many states mandate anti-discrimination and harassment training, so refer to your state’s laws regarding mandatory training requirements.
  • Standardize hiring practices. Adhere to fair and non-discriminatory hiring practices. Job descriptions should be completed for all positions, including job duties and responsibilities, required qualifications, physical requirements and working conditions. All candidates interviewing for a job should be reviewed and assessed based on the same criteria and rating scale.
  • Put job offers in writing. Many states require employers to provide written details when making an offer of employment. These details include job title, pay, pay frequency, start date, pre-employment requirements, etc. Offer letters serve as a written document that includes all required information and serves as confirmation that a job offer has been extended and accepted. This helps prevent misunderstandings and ensures both parties accept the terms of the offer.
  • Document, document, document. Documenting HR activities is a critical practice that ensures transparency, consistency and compliance. Proper documentation serves as valuable references for future decision-making, tracking an employee’s progress and identifying areas for improvement. Documentation also provides a factual account of actions taken, communications and policies, all of which can be crucial in demonstrating adherence to employment laws and regulations.
  • Establish termination procedures. Proper termination procedures are important to ensure the ethical treatment of employees, a positive work placement environment and the legal and financial interests of both the employer and employee. Many states have rules regarding last paychecks, termination letters and paperwork requirements, including unemployment rights and benefit information. Refer to your state laws for additional criteria.
  • Place labor law posters conspicuously. Labor law posters are the mandated state and federal employment law notices that employers with at least one or more employees are required to conspicuously post in an area frequented by all employees. Failure to display the correct state and federal employment law notices can result in penalties, fines and lawsuits. There are many companies that offer subscriptions to send posters and statewide updates automatically.
  • Protect employees’ privacy and data. Safeguard employee data and personal information. Privacy laws vary by state and are designed to protect personal information and rights of employees and job applicants. These laws govern how organizations collect, use, store and share personal data related to employment.

I am not a licensed attorney and the information provided should not be considered as legal advice. It is important to consult with a qualified legal professional for accurate and specific legal guidance. HR issues can be complex and vary based on state, jurisdiction and individual circumstances

Kathy Johnson is executive vice president and chief human resource officer for EDP. She leads an HR team that serves the company’s 700-plus employees. With more than 20 years of HR experience, Johnson has an undergraduate degree from DePaul University and a Master of Jurisprudence in Employment and Labor Law from Tulane University. She can be reached at or 312-254-5977.


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