Legal Background: HRM in the Future
It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me,
and I think that’s pretty important.
â€” Martin Luther King Jr.
Legislators, attorneys, and HRM professionals continue their work to provide perspective and
develop processes for resolving workplace issues. Employment law resembles an intricate web
of laws from different sources. Constitutional, statutory, and common law guide the
development of employment law. Courts may define law over time (common law), or lawmakers
may intervene by passing statutory law. Frequently, the HRM professional is at the epicenter of
these activities, dealing with unsettled legal questions and competing employer-employee
issues. Social media, The Patriot Act, smoking in the workplace, and employer control of
employees’ off-the-clock behavior are areas of employment law that remain unsettled.
Employment law is evolving towards addressing these workplace issues.
Technological advances are continually providing ethical and legal issues for the HRM
professional. For example, monitoring an employee’s location with a global positioning system
or Google Maps has become an issue. Law often lags behind technology, so it becomes
incumbent upon organizations and HRM professionals to maintain an ethical workplace and
stay true to organizational mission while anticipating legal changes. Social media presents
numerous opportunities and challenges for organizations and the HRM professional will need to
stay abreast of developing law.
When governmental involvement is implicated, employees may bring suit against employers for
discrimination or invasion of privacy based on constitutional violations. Employers can now use
the Patriot Act as a defense. Whether the Patriot Act infringes upon individual liberty and
freedom will be debated, but compliance with the Patriot Act is required, and the organization in
question is unlikely to be found liable. A more fertile ground for plaintiffs will be in abuses of, or
misinterpretation of the act. Historically recent NSA leaks are liable to bring this act and privacy
issues under more scrutiny.
Smoking in the workplace is a hotly debated workplace topic. Employers and HRM
professionals are faced with the problem of protecting one worker’s rights, potentially at the
expense of another’s. Various state, city, and local governments have begun to enact laws and
ordinances to remove smoking from the workplace and to designate smoking areas. There is no
federal statute governing this issue. In unionized environments, collective bargaining
agreements may mediate this issue. Employer authority is limited.
Another evolving issue spurred on by social media and the ability to monitor behavior is the
control of off-duty employee behavior. High-profile firings of personalities such as Paula Dean
and Juan Williams are justified by the negative impact of their actions on public relations or
ethics violations. But what of the non-public figure who chooses to smoke, or engages in
political action that the organization disagrees with? How does an organization form a policy,
and who should be included in the decision-making?
King, M. L., Jr. (1968). The trumpet of conscience. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
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