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History of HR

HR Through the Decades


  • 1959 — Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (Landrum-Griffin) passed
  • 1962 — President John F. Kennedy’s order gives federal workers the right to bargain
  • 1963 — The Children March in Birmingham
  • 1963 — Equal Pay Act bans wage discrimination based on gender
  • 1964 — Civil Rights Act bans institutional forms of racial discrimination
  • 1965 — AFL-CIO forms A. Philip Randolph Institute
  • 1965 — Cesar Chavez forms AFL-CIO United Farm Workers Organizing Committee
  • 1965 — the Immigration and Nationality Act is signed, catalyzing an increase in cultural diversity in the United States
  • 1966 — Medicare is enacted
  • 1968 - Age Discrimination in Employment Act is passed
  • 1969 — the internet is invented

Human Resources evolved into legal compliance in the 60’s. Personnel administration was focus during this time.


  • 1970 — Occupational Safety and Health Act passed
  • 1971 — Affirmative Action goes unchallenged
  • 1972 — Coalition of Black Trade Unionists formed
  • 1973 — Labor Council for Latin American Advancement founded
  • 1974 — Coalition of Labor Union Women founded
  • 1974 — Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) created

During the 1970-1980 period, when the labor force participation of women underwent rapid growth, 76% of the labor force growth was the result of population growth, and the rest was related to the growth of participation rates, mainly women.


  • 1978 — Pregnancy Discrimination Act created
  • 1978 — HRCI certification begins for HR professionals
  • 1979 — Lane Kirklane elected president of the AFL-CIO
  • 1980 — End of the Marketing Era (1920s-1980ish). Technology allowed for companies to get the word out about their products; consumer orientation was discovered and people began to advertise to appeal to certain groups or people businesses began to analyze consumer desires before beginning actual production
  • 1980 — Beginning of the Relationship Era. Companies look for ways to engage clients and build relationships that garner loyalty and return business. Companies realize that keeping a customer is more cost effective and business wise than trying to attract new customers.
  • 1981 — President Ronald Reagan breaks air traffic controllers’ strike
  • 1981 — AFL-CIO rallies 400,000 in Washington on Solidarity Day
  • 1986 — Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) created
  • 1989 — invention of the World Wide Web

Around 1978 the concept of sexual harassment first appeared in case law, but not firmly established in law until Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson in 1986; in 1981 13,000 air traffic controllers went on strike; 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act

Workplace strategy was introduced to the mainstream around 1985, when Philip Stone and Robert Luchetti declared “Your Office is Where You Are” in the Harvard Business Review. At the time, emerging technologies (like the cellular phone) made the once-novel concept of working away from the desk a real possibility, and soon the physical office began reflecting the idea of activity settings.

From the 1970s-1990s offices used to be made up of cubicles and c-suites. Employees were more often encouraged to work independently and stay on focus at all times, much different to the modern workplace where collaboration is encouraged. Workplaces were a lot less tech orientated – most business communication took place over landlines and in person and documents were all hard copies.


  • 1988 — Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) created
  • 1989 — Organizing institute created
  • 1990 — United Steelworkers of America labor Alliance created within the AFL-CIO
  • 1990 — United Mine Workers of America win strike against Pittston Coal
  • 1990 — Americans with Disabilities Act created
  • 1992 — Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance created within AFL-CIO
  • 1993 — Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) created
  • 1994 — Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act created (USERRA)
  • 1995 — Thomas Donahue becomes interim president of the AFL-CIO
  • 1995 — John Sweeney elected AFL-CIO president
  • 1997 — Pride at Work, a national coalition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers and their supporters, becomes an AFL-CIO constituency group; AFL-CIO membership renewed growth
  • 1997 — The AFL-CIO defeats legislation giving the president the ability to “Fast Track” trade legislation without assured protection of workers’ rights and the environment

ASPA (American Society for Personnel Administration) becomes SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management); Microsoft introduces MS/DOS; increasing workplace protections for employees; rise of dot-com industry.


  • 2000 — AFL-CIO Executive Council calls for reform in the nation’s immigration laws for undocumented workers
  • 2001 — Labor unions join with community allies to enact “living wage” ordinances in 76 communities across the nation
  • 2001 — AFL-CIO launches Alliance for Retired Americans to recruit activists and mobilize older Americans
  • 2002 — The AFL-CIO forms the Industrial Union Council
  • 2002 — President George W. Bush pledges to strip collective bargaining rights from 170,000 civil servants in the new Transportation Security Administration and denies bargaining rights to airport-security screening personnel
  • 2003 — The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department launches the Helmets to Hardhats program
  • 2003 — The AFL-CIO establishes Working America to reach out to non-union members and mobilize workers through door-to-door canvassing in neighborhoods
  • 2005 — Change to Win holds its founding convention in St. Louis, created among seven unions previously members of the AFL-CIO
  • 2006 — The AFL-CIO and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network form a partnership to collaborate with local worker centers on immigration reform and other issues

In 2005, the Journal of Corporate Real Estate published an article titled, “Workplace strategy: What it is and why you should care.” By this point, major corporations had jumped on board with workplace strategy. Deutsche Bank was among the first companies to establish a strategy: db Smart Office (in 2002). Microsoft began researching its own ways of working in 2004 and 2005, eventually beginning the Workplace Advantage Program. Both programs continue to evolve to this day.

From the 2000s to present, there is more focus on feeling comfortable in the workplace, with things such as standing desks, comfy seating and remote working having been introduced in recent years to keep staff happy and motivated. The modern workplace is all about social collaboration and rising tech trends. New tools and technology has transformed the way that we work, from video software such as Skye being introduced in the early 00’s and social media rising in popularity a couple of years later.

The internet, smart phones, online file sharing, etc. has all made it possible for us to work anywhere and everywhere, which has led to a rise in remote working and collaborate with people on the other side of the world with ease.

With technology comes distractions however, and 40% of someone’s productive time is taken up by shifting between tasks.


  • 2008 — The AFL-CIO establishes the Union Veterans Council
  • 2009 — Richard Trumka elected AFL-CIO president
  • 2009 — The first of three unions elave Change to Win to re-affiliate with the AFL-CIO
  • 2009 — President Barack Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored the rights of working women to sue over pay discrimination

2018 and Beyond

During the 1950-2000 period, the annual growth rate of the labor force was 1.6%, whereas from 2000-2050, the annual growth rate is projected to be 0.6%. The size of the labor force was 62 million in 1950, of which nearly 44 million were men and 18 million were women. The 62 million figure more than doubled during the 1950–2000 period, reaching nearly 141 million in 2000, with 75 million men and 66 million women. The labor force is projected to grow by 0.6 percent between 2000 and 2050, reaching 192 million—100 million men and 92 million women—the latter year.

Trends in Employment:

The employment rate in the U.S. – the share of the population 16 and older that is employed – has been relatively steady since 1980. It peaked most recently at 64% in 2000 but returned to its 1980 level (59%) by 2015. The decline in the employment rate since 2000 is linked in part to the aging of the workforce as older workers are less likely to remain in the labor force. Another important factor is the Great Recession (2007-09), which resulted in a sharp contraction in the employment rate, from 63% in 2007 to 58% in 2011.

Even though the overall employment rate is currently the same as in 1980, there are some sharp differences across age groups. Younger workers are much less likely to be working today than they were in 1980, and older workers are laboring on more. Most of this turnaround has happened this century.

Among 16- to 24-year-olds, less than half (46%) were employed in 2015, compared with 57% in 2000. This trend is driven partly by the fact that a larger share of young adults are enrolled in college, which delays their entry into the workforce. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 40% were enrolled in college in 2014, compared with 26% in 1980.

The share of adults 65 and older who are employed has risen steadily in recent decades, climbing from 12% in 1980 to 19% in 2015. The increase was uninterrupted by the Great Recession. The employment rate for adults ages 55 to 64 has also risen since 1980, but its level in 2015 (62%) was less than its peak in 2008 (63%).

Women, too, have greatly increased their presence in the workforce in the past several decades. Some 48% of women 16 and older were employed in 1980, and this share increased to 58% by 2000. During the same period, the employment rate for men held steady at about 70%. Since 2000, the employment rate has fallen for both men and women, although men have experienced a slightly steeper decline. For men, the employment rate fell from 71% in 2000 to 65% in 2015, or 6 percentage points. During the same period, the employment rate for women decreased from 58% to 54%, a drop of 4 percentage points.