As employment laws evolved over the 20th and 21st century, some new thoughts and methods came to light about human resources. It took some time for the idea of HR as something more than personnel or “paper pushers” to gain traction, but once it did, we began to see an evolution in human resources.

One of the HR advocates of the 1990s, Dave Ulrich, a business professor at the University of Michigan, wrote a book called “Human Resource Champions: The Next Agenda for Adding Value and Delivering Results.”  Ulrich proposed “an HR function that would be responsible for a number of distinct categories:  administrative efficiency through shared service centers that provided basic, traditional HR services and improvements to organizational processes (which could be outsourced); “centers of expertise” focused on compensation and benefits to attract employees and respond to employee needs as employee champions; strategic partners who focused on aligning HR with business strategy; and change agents who managed the processes that would increase the organization’s effectiveness.” This is spot on for what human resources has become, today.

Laws enacted in the HR world over the last 25 years include:

The Workforce Investment Act 1998

Replaced the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982, providing funding for local, statewide and national on-the-job training.

Launching the Office of Disability Employment Policy 2000

To reinforce the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Office of Disability Employment Policy was created as an authority on national policy to integrate individuals with disabilities into the workplace. Its goal is to remove the limits on employment opportunities that people with disabilities face. The agency provides information on required accommodations to employers, and advises people with disabilities about their rights.

Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration (renamed Employee Benefits Security Administration) 2003

Focuses on protecting the benefits of workers and their families by regulating retirement, health care, and other benefit plans. It has the authority to administer and enforce provisions of laws including ERISA, COBRA, HIPAA, and, more recently, ACA.

Enhancing Miner Safety and Health 2006

The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act was approved after three major mining tragedies (in the same year) that killed 19 workers. It includes several safety provisions to modify the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, including requiring mines to provide more updated accident contingency plans and to train miners to survive emergency situations.

Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act 2009

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 followed a Supreme Court decision that held that people subject to pay discrimination have only 180 days from the date the employer first decides to pay them less to file a discrimination claim. After the passage of this law, each (unfair) paycheck is a separate discriminatory act that starts a new clock.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) 2010

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Aact (ACA), insurance companies are required to cover all applicants at the same rate of coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions or gender. Employers were asked to provide employees with “cost-effective” benefits that did not exceed a certain percentage of the employee’s income.

With the newer laws, and the roster of legislation over the last 100 years, human resources has its hands full.  HR professionals are interpreters, protectors, customer service, enforcers and caretakers. It is up to HR to determine the path of a business and ensure that the company reflects the mission, vision, and values of an organization, all while maintaining compliance. Credibility for our roles has been achieved, now it is up to us to maintain it.