Human resources departments must handle a host of ethical and legal issues. From the regulations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to the standards and practices of organizations such as the Human Resource Management Institute, HR constantly must be monitored to make sure it complies with hiring, promotion and termination guidelines. Decisions about benefits, conflict resolution, paid time off and maternity leave also can present difficulties.

Labor Costs

HR must deal with conflicting needs to keep labor costs as low as possible and to offer fair wages. Ethics come into play when HR must choose between outsourcing labor to countries with lower wages and harsh living conditions and paying competitive wages in the United States. While there is nothing illegal about outsourcing labor, HR can create a public relations problem if consumers object to using underpaid workers to save money.

Opportunity for New Skills

If your HR department chooses who gets training, it can run into ethical issues. Because training is an opportunity for advancement and expanded opportunities, employees who are left out of training may argue that they are not being given equal opportunities in the workplace. HR must make certain to clarify the business reason behind its training decisions so employees understand why specific individuals receive training when others don't.

Working Conditions

HR must work to maintain safety standards and clean working conditions for employees based on Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements. Employees also have the right to expect a workplace free of sexually suggestive signs or comments, and disabled employees must have access to the building. HR must make sure lighting and air quality are adequate.

Honoring Benefit Provisions

Some companies have reneged on promises they made regarding pension programs. HR has an ethical responsibility to make sure that any benefits offered to employees actually pay as intended. This means monitoring company-managed benefits as well as insurance companies to make sure there are no financial problems that would shortchange employees.

Fair Hiring and Justified Termination

Hiring and termination decisions must be made without regard to ethnicity, race, gender, sexual preference or religious beliefs. HR must take precautions to eliminate any bias from the hiring and firing process by making sure such actions adhere to strict business criteria.