Like any field, human resources has its own distinct language. If you’re moving into a new HR position, or assuming HR roles or decision-making, this can be confusing and intimidating. To get you started, here are the key HR terms, regulations and abbreviations that you should know.


Discrimination is when you make a judgment against an employee or potential new hire for something other than their work performance. Many of the most important HR regulations are in place to prevent workplace discrimination for factors such as race, gender, age, an existing disability and pregnancy. You can’t make hiring, promotion or salary decisions based on any of the aforementioned criteria.

Minimum Wage and Overtime

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) put rules in place for the minimum amount employers need to pay their employees. Currently, workers must earn a minimum of $7.25 per hour. This is the federal minimum wage, but some states and cities require higher minimum-wage rates. There are some exceptions for workers who earn at least $30 a month in tips, students and young workers. In addition, if an employee works more than 40 hours, they are working overtime and must be paid 1.5 times their hourly rate (see below for exception.)

Exempt Employees

Some employees are exempt from the overtime laws, meaning they can work more than 40 hours and not earn overtime. Whether an employee is exempt depends on their position and earnings. The FLSA lists out a number of positions that are exempt. For example, managers who have hiring and firing authority over other employees are exempt from these rules.

In addition, an employee must be paid a salary (not hourly) of at least $455 a week to be exempt. However, the government is preparing rules that will significantly increase this threshold to $50,440 a year, so many exempt employees may become eligible for overtime.


Leave is when an employee takes time off work. Most of the time, an employee has to receive permission to take leave or they could be fired. However, there are scenarios in which an employee must legally be given leave and allowed to return to their job, including if an employee leaves for a pregnancy, because they have a serious medical condition, or if they need to help a seriously ill family member. The same rules apply if an employee leaves to temporarily enlist in the armed forces.

Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The ACA is still relatively new health insurance legislation, with different aspects of the law slowly implemented year by year. The latest specific provision to be rolled out is the employer mandate, which requires that employers with 50 or more full-time (or full-time-equivalent) employees offer health insurance to their workforce. In addition, the ACA set minimum standards for acceptable health insurance. Be sure to study up on the intricacies of the law so your company can comply with the rules, thereby avoiding heavy fines.


The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that employers provide a safe and hazard-free workplace for their employees. If an employee raises a safety concern with your department, you need to address it quickly to prevent a potential lawsuit and fines under this regulation.

HR terms aren’t complicated on their own, but it certainly is easy to get bogged down in the more intricate details of specific regulations. The six terms mentioned here provide a strong jumping-off point for employees new to the HR realm to get familiar with the tip of the human resources iceberg.

David Rodeck is a professional freelance writer based out of Delaware. Before writing full-time, he worked as a health- and life-insurance agent. He specializes in making insurance, investing and financial planning understandable.