Labor laws can be complicated, partially because different states and municipalities have their own laws for what an employer can and cannot do. If you are a student or a job seeker, you need to know your rights so you can detect unlawful activity. For HR professionals, you need to be aware of unlawful practices and put a stop to them immediately in order to protect your business. It’s always best to have a degree in HR, either from a traditional program or an online degree program, so you can be trained to recognize which practices are legal and which ones are illegal. Watch out for these unlawful HR practices that can have severely damaging consequences to both businesses and employees.


It is illegal to discriminate against any employee or job seeker because of their “race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information” in the United States. This includes posting job ads that discourage job seekers from applying for a position based on their protected status. Most businesses do not practice blatant discrimination. However, because of the subjective and often discreet nature in which discrimination takes place, it’s not always as simple as a manager saying, “Don’t promote her because she’s black.” Because of this, businesses have to be very careful about discrimination in their HR departments. Aside from being illegal, discriminatory practices devastate your company’s diversity and make innovation more difficult.

Hiring Undocumented Immigrants

Hiring undocumented immigrants may seem like it has a lot of advantages, particularly in cost, but it can backfire. Undocumented immigrants may be found out at any time and deported, especially with the more aggressive enforcement recently, leaving you with a vacancy to fill. Your company can also face action from the government and backlash from customers for not hiring local job seekers, so it’s best to avoid this.

Sexual Harassment

Allowing sexual harassment to exist in your company’s culture can have devastating consequences. First and foremost, it can get your company sued in an embarrassing and highly publicized trial that could wreck your image. Second, talented employees and other companies might avoid working with you, which is terrible for your diversity, innovation and bottom line.

Not Paying The Minimum Wage

Tipped employees are some of the only types of employees exempt from needing to be paid the minimum wage. Employees that work via commission, such as salespeople, are still required to be paid minimum wage for time worked. This also includes interns – a company can only hire unpaid interns if they meet six very specific criteria. These criteria make it so most interns at for-profit companies are owed minimum wage and overtime pay. Failing to do this will result in a negative option of your business among employees and the general public.

Not Paying Employees What They Are Owed

Wage theft is a costly problem for America’s workers. Many companies do this by not paying for overtime hours or by asking employees to work off the clock. Just because an employee is salaried does not necessarily mean they are not entitled to overtime compensation, either. Unless that salaried position is considered “exempt” (such as white collar workers whose roles are “managerial or supervisory in nature”) by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), overtime must be paid. Wage deductions for any reason that bring employees down to below minimum wage are also unlawful. If your company becomes known for cheating people out of their pay, your reputation in the workforce will suffer.

Any HR department needs to take care to not allow these practices to creep into their operations. If any of them are occurring in your company, you need to put a stop to them right away. They are not only illegal, they can land your company in hot water with the relevant authorities, customers and employees, and in a worst case scenario can put you out of business. You may be liable for court fees as well as fines from the government. It’s just not worth it.