PHR / SPHR Exam For Dummies
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In order to effectively manage risk, HR professionals at all stages of their career must be up to date on the major labor laws that affect each functional area represented on the exam. Hence, make sure that you’re prepared for the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) or the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) exam, and know these laws. Rote memorization isn’t sufficient, though; you need to understand the implications of application and what to do when major laws (such as state versus federal) are involved.

When studying, focus on the following:

  • The number of employees that triggers coverage: Regardless of the size of the employer you work for, a labor law applies. Some of the test questions attempt to distract you with incorrect information based on the number of employees required to trigger protection.

Make yourself a table that has a few columns, as shown. Head each of the columns with a number and fill in the blanks with the labor laws that are triggered by that number of employees.

Resist the temptation to download a complete table from the Internet. You need to do the legwork here. The practice of doing the research to find the numbers takes you deep into the material, which is a sure way to reinforce the concept for recall on the exam.

  • Who the law is designed to protect: Some of these laws protect the worker, some grant the employer certain rights, and a few others protect a union. Know who the law is protecting so you can interpret exam questions more effectively.
  • Why the law was passed in the first place: Adult learners tend to retain information best when they understand why something is relevant. If this describes you, pay attention to a bit of the history surrounding the law or court case to improve your ability to recall the details on test day.
  • The employment context: Many of these laws apply to more than one legal domain. Be sure and focus your studying on how the law defines the employment context.
Test Preparation Sample
1 15 20 50
Workers compensation laws Americans with Disabilities Act Age Discrimination in Employment Act Executive order 11246
Fair Labor Standards Act Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Family Medical Leave Act

Most of these labor laws in the following table have some form of a frequently asked question (FAQ) or fact sheet document online. Take the time to access these documents (use credible sources such as the Department of Labor or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), and then use the documents to create digital flashcards or quizzes on free websites such as GoConqr or Quizlet. You can also use the information in this table to create flashcards.

Important Employment Laws and Bureaus
Name Year Description
Payne vs. The Western & Atlantic Railroad Company 1884 Defined employment at-will.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 1869 Established to study industrial accidents and maintain accident records.
Sherman Antitrust Act 1890 Controlled business monopolies; allowed court injunctions to prevent restraint of trade. Used to restrict unionization efforts.
Clayton Act 1914 Limited the use of injunctions to break strikes; exempted unions from the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) 1916 Provided benefits similar to workers’ compensation for federal employees injured on the job.
Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act 1927 Provided workers’ compensation benefits for maritime workers injured on navigable waters of the United States or on piers, docks, and terminals.
Railway Labor Act 1926 Protected unionization rights; allowed for a 90-day cooling-off period to prevent strikes in national emergencies. Covers railroads and unions.
Norris-La Guardia Act 1932 Protected the right to organize; outlawed yellow-dog contracts.
National Labor Relations Act (NLRA); also referred to as the Wagner Act 1935 Protected the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively; identified unfair labor practices; established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to regulate the relationship of employers and unions.
Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA)/Social Security Act 1935 Required employers and employees to pay Social Security taxes.
Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) 1936 Required employers to contribute a percentage of payroll to an unemployment insurance fund.
Public Contracts Act (PCA); also referred to as the Walsh-Healey Act 1936 Required contractors to pay prevailing wage rates.
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 1938 Defined exempt and nonexempt employees; required and set the minimum wage to be paid to nonexempt workers; required time-and-a-half to be paid for nonexempt overtime hours; limited hours and type of work for children; established record-keeping requirements.
Labor-Management Relations Act (LMRA); also referred to as the Taft-Hartley Act 1947 Prohibited closed shops; restricted union shops; allowed states to pass “right to work” laws; prohibited jurisdictional strikes and secondary boycotts; allowed employers to permanently replace economic strikers; established the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service; allowed an 80-day cooling-off period for national emergency strikes.
Portal-to-Portal Act 1947 Clarified the definition of “hours worked” and “compensable time," such as time spent putting on PPE, for the FLSA.
Patent Act 1952 Established the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect inventions and the rights of the inventors.
Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA); also referred to as the Landrum-Griffin Act 1959 Controlled internal union operations; provided a bill of rights for union members; required a majority vote of members to increase dues; allowed members to sue the union; set term limits for union leaders.
Equal Pay Act 1963 Required that women performing substantially similar or identical work to men be paid the same wage or salary rate.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 Established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.
Executive Order (EO) 11246 1965 Prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin; required affirmative steps for all terms and conditions of employment; required a written Affirmative Action Plan (AAP) for contractors with 50 employees.
Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 1965 Eliminated national origin, race, and ancestry as bars to immigration; set immigration goals for reunifying families and preference for specialized skills.
Service Contract Act 1965 Required government contractors to pay prevailing wages and benefits.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) 1967 Prohibited discrimination against persons 40 years of age or older; established conditions for bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) exceptions.
EO 11375 1967 Added sex to the protected classes in EO 11246.
Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) 1968 Limited garnishment amounts on employee wages; prohibited discharge of employees for a single garnishment order.
EO 11478 1969 Included disabled individuals and those 40 years of age or older in the protected classes established by EO 11246.
Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA) 1969 Provided benefits for coal miners suffering from pneumoconiosis due to mine work.
Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) 1970 Required employers to provide a safe workplace and comply with safety and health standards; established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enforce safety regulations; established the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to research, evaluate, and recommend hazard reduction measures.
Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) 1970 Required employers to notify candidates that credit reports may be obtained; required written authorization by the candidate and that the employer provides a copy of the report to the candidate before taking an adverse action.
Griggs vs. Duke Power 1971 USSC: Required employers to show that job requirements are related to the job; established that lack of intention to discriminate isn’t a defense against claims of discrimination.
Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOA) 1972 Established that complainants have the burden of proof for disparate impact; provided litigation authority for the EEOC; extended the time to file complaints.
Rehabilitation Act (RA) 1973 Expanded opportunities for individuals with physical or mental disabilities; provided remedies for victims of discrimination.
Privacy Act 1974 Prohibited federal agencies from sharing information collected about individuals.
Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) 1974 Provided equal opportunity and affirmative action for Vietnam veterans.
Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) 1974 Established requirements for pension, retirement, and welfare benefit plans including medical, hospital, accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D), and unemployment benefits.
Albemarle Paper vs. Moody 1975 USSC: Required that employment tests be validated; subjective supervisor rankings aren’t sufficient validation; criteria must be tied to job requirements.
NLRB vs. J. Weingarten, Inc. 1975 USSC: Established that union employees have the right to request union representation during any investigatory interview that could result in disciplinary action.
Washington vs. Davis 1976 USSC: Established that employment-selection tools that adversely impact protected classes are lawful if they have been validated to show future success on the job.
Copyright Act 1976 Defined fair use of copyrighted work; set the term of copyright effectiveness.
Mine Safety and Health Act (MSHA) 1977 Established mandatory mine safety and health standards and created the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
Automobile Workers vs. Johnson Controls, Inc. 1977 USSC: “Decisions about the welfare of the next generation must be left to the parents who conceive, bear, support, and raise them, rather than to the employers who hire those parents.”
Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) 1978 Established guidelines to ensure that selection procedures are both job related and valid predictors of job success.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) 1978 Required that pregnancy be treated the same as any other short-term disability.
Civil Service Reform Act 1978 Created the Senior Executive Service, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).
Revenue Act 1978 Established Section 125 and 401(k) plans for employees.
EO 12138 1979 Created the National Women’s Business Enterprise Policy; required affirmative steps to promote and support women’s business enterprises.
Guidelines on Sexual Harassment 1980 Assisted employers to develop antiharassment policies, establish complaint procedures, and investigate complaints promptly and impartially.
Retirement Equity Act 1984 Lowered the age limits on participation and vesting in pension benefits; required written spousal consent to not provide survivor benefits; restricted conditions placed on survivor benefits.
Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Provided continuation of group health coverage upon a qualifying event.
Tax Reform Act 1986 Reduced income tax rates and brackets.
Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) 1986 Prohibited employment of individuals who aren’t legally authorized to work in the United States; required I-9s for all employees.
Drug-Free Workplace Act 1988 Required federal contractors to develop and implement drug-free workplace policies.
Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) 1988 Prohibited the use of lie-detector tests except under limited circumstances.
Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act) 1988 Required 60 days’ notice for mass layoffs or plant closings; defined mass layoffs and plant closings; identified exceptions to the requirements.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990 Required reasonable accommodation for qualified individuals with disabilities.
Older Worker Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) 1990 Amended ADEA to prevent discrimination in benefits for workers 40 years of age and older; added requirements for waivers.
Immigration Act 1990 Required the prevailing wage for holders of H1(b) visas; set H1(b) quotas.
Civil Rights Act (CRA) 1991 Allowed compensatory and punitive damages; provided for jury trials; established defenses to disparate impact claims.
Glass Ceiling Act 1991 Established a commission to determine whether a glass ceiling exists and identify barriers for women and minorities. As a result, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) conducts audits of the representation of women and minorities at all corporate levels.
Unemployment Compensation Amendments 1992 Reduced rollover rules for lump-sum distributions of qualified retirement plans; required 20 percent withholding for some distributions.
Energy Policy Act of 1992 1992 Allowed employers to provide a nontaxable fringe benefit to employees engaged in qualified commuter activities such as bicycling and mass transit.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) 1993 Required qualifying employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees for the birth or adoption of a child or to provide care for defined relatives with serious health conditions or to employees unable to perform job duties due to a serious health condition.
Taxman vs. Board of Education of Piscataway 1993 Found that in the absence of past discrimination or underrepresentation of protected classes, preference may not be given to protected classes in making layoff decisions.
Harris vs. Forklift Systems 1993 USSC: Defined an actionable hostile work environment as that which falls between merely offensive and that which results in tangible psychological injury.
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) 1993 Revised rules for employee benefits; set the maximum deduction for executive pay at $1 million; mandated some benefits for medical plans.
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) 1994 Protected the reemployment and benefit rights of reservists called to active duty.
Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) 1995 Required all federal employment legislation passed by Congress to apply to congressional employees.
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) 1996 Reduced the number and types of acceptable documents used to prove identity and employment eligibility, and launched the eVerify pilot programs.
Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) 1996 Required insurers to provide the same limits for mental health benefits that are provided for other types of health benefits.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) 1996 Prohibited discrimination based on health status; limited health insurance restrictions for preexisting conditions; required a Certificate of Group Health Plan Coverage upon plan termination.
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act 1996 Required employers to provide information about all new or rehired employees to state agencies to enforce child-support orders.
Small Business Job Protection Act 1996 Redefined highly compensated individuals; detailed minimum participation requirements; simplified 401(k) tests; corrected qualified plan and disclosure requirements.
Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) 1996 Provided that a Small Business Administration (SBA) ombudsman act as an advocate for small business owners in the regulatory process.
EO 13087 1998 Expanded coverage of protected classes in EO 11246 to include sexual orientation.
Burlington Industries vs. Ellerth 1998 USSC: Established that employers have vicarious liability for employees victimized by supervisors with immediate or higher authority over them who create an actionable hostile work environment.
Faragher vs. City of Boca Raton 1998 USSC: Established that employers are responsible for employee actions and have a responsibility to control them.
Oncale vs. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc. 1998 USSC: Extended the definition of sexual harassment to include same-sex harassment.
NLRB: Epilepsy Foundation of Northeast Ohio 2000 Extended Weingarten rights to nonunion employees by allowing employees to request a co-worker be present during an investigatory interview that could result in disciplinary action.
NLRB: M. B. Sturgis, Inc. 2000 Established that temporary employees may be included in the client company’s bargaining unit and that consent of the employer and temp agency aren’t required to bargain jointly.
Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act 2000 Mandated recordkeeping for all needlestick and sharps injuries; required employee involvement in developing safer devices.
Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) 2000 Provided compensation for employees and contractors subjected to excessive radiation during production and testing of nuclear weapons.
EO 13152 2000 Added “status as a parent” to protected classes in EO 11246.
Circuit City Stores vs. Adams 2001 USSC: Arbitration clauses in employment agreements are enforceable for employers engaged in interstate commerce except for transportation workers.
EO 13201 2001 Applies to federal contractors and subcontractors.
Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) 2002 Mandated improved quality and transparency in financial reporting and increased corporate responsibility and the usefulness of corporate financial disclosure; required companies to establish and maintain an adequate internal control structure and procedures for financial reporting.
Pharakhone vs. Nissan North America, Inc. 2003 Established that employees who violate company rules while on FMLA leave may be terminated.
NLRB: IBM Corp. 2004 NLRB reversed its 2000 decision in Epilepsy, withdrawing Weingarten rights from nonunion employees.
Jespersen vs. Harrah’s Operating Co. 2004 Established that a dress code requiring women to wear makeup doesn’t constitute unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII.
Smith vs. City of Jackson, Mississippi 2005 USSC: Established that ADEA permits disparate impact claims for age discrimination comparable to those permitted for discrimination based on sex and race.
Pension Protection Act (PPA) 2006 Amended ERISA financial obligations for multiemployer pension plans; changed plan administration for deferred-contribution plans.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. vs. White 2006 USSC: Established that all retaliation against employees who file discrimination claims is unlawful under Title VII, even if no economic damage results.
Sista vs. CDC Ixis North America, Inc. 2006 Established that employees on FMLA may be legally terminated for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons, including violations of company policy if the reason is unrelated to the exercise of FMLA rights.
Bates vs. United Parcel 2006 Established that when employers apply an unlawful standard that bars employees protected by the ADA from an application process, the employees don’t need to prove they were otherwise qualified to perform essential job functions. The employer must prove the standard is necessary to business operations.
Taylor vs. Progress Energy, Inc. 2007 Established that the waiver of FMLA rights in a severance agreement is invalid. FMLA clearly states that “employees cannot waive, nor may employers induce employees to waive, any rights under the FMLA.”
Repa vs. Roadway Express, Inc. 2007 Established that when an employee on FMLA leave is receiving employer-provided disability payments, he may not be required to use accrued sick or vacation leave during the FMLA absence.
Phason vs. Meridian Rail Corp. 2007 Established that when an employer is close to closing a deal to sell a company, WARN Act notice requirements are triggered by the number of employees actually employed and the number laid off on the date of the layoff, even if the purchasing company hires some of the employees shortly after the layoff.
Davis vs. O’Melveny & Myers 2007 Established that arbitration clauses in employment agreements won’t be enforced if they’re significantly favorable to the employer and the employee doesn’t have a meaningful opportunity to reject the agreement.
Velazquez-Garcia vs. Horizon Lines of Puerto Rico, Inc. 2007 Established that the burden of proof that a termination wasn’t related to military service is on an employer when an employee protected by USERRA is laid off.
Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) 2008 Prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of genetic information. Prohibits employers from requesting, requiring, or purchasing genetic information, and describes exceptions.
Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act 2010 Created new requirements for employer-sponsored healthcare plans. Amended the FLSA to require large employers to provide lactation breaks and facilities for employees who are breast-feeding.

In day-to-day practice and also on the exams, the first piece of information to consider from a compliance perspective is the size of the employer. The following table shows you the major labor laws that apply based on the number of employees. Use this table to test your knowledge.

Laws Sorted by Employer Size
Law 1 or more employee 15 or more employees 20 or more employees 50 or more employees 100 or more employees
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) X
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) X
Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) X
Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) X
Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) X
Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) X
Immigration Reform & Control Act (IRCA) X
Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) X
Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) X
Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) X
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 X
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) X
Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act) X

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Sandra M. Reed, SPHR, is the owner of EpocHResources, a consulting firm specializing in the unique HR needs of small businesses. She has authored learning modules and case studies for the Society for Human Resource Management. She is the co-author of PHR/SPHR: Professional in Human Resources Certification Study Guide, 4E, by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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