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The Evolution of HR and Compliance

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rss.shrm.org | Allen Smith, J.D.

The Evolution of HR and Compliance


​The number of employment lawyers and HR professionals who focus on compliance has mushroomed over the past several decades as employment laws have multiplied.

“The workplace has changed tremendously over the last 75 years, just as the world has,” says Emily M. Dickens, SHRM’s chief of staff, head of public affairs and corporate secretary.

 “In 1948, the workplace in many places was still segregated. It would be another 16 years before the
Civil Rights Act outlawed discriminatory hiring practices.” 

The Conference Board reported in 1948 that based on data from 25 industries for one week in November, men’s earnings averaged $60.37 and women’s earnings were $40.88; average hours worked were 41.2 and 39, respectively.

Although salaries for women still trail those of men, today’s workplace is more inclusive and diverse than ever. 

“So, the biggest changes led by legislation would be in how the workplace now reflects our population,” Dickens says. “This has been accomplished through the Civil Rights Act, the
Americans with Disabilities Act and state laws,” among others. 

The Early Laws

The first real labor law was the
Railway Labor Act of 1926, which initially applied only to the railroad industry, says Roger Quillen, chairman emeritus with law firm Fisher Phillips in Atlanta. The law was extended to the airline industry in 1936. 

“This was the first federal statute to govern the employer/employee relationship and provide employees the right to…

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