Discrimination in the Workplace
Discrimination, for the purposes of employment law, is any workplace action such as hiring, firing, demoting, and promoting based on a prejudice of some kind that results in the unfair treatment of employees. With some notable exceptions, such as affirmative action, discrimination is strictly prohibited by a myriad of federal laws. Many states also have laws prohibiting discrimination and may be even stricter than federal laws.
The following federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination are among the most important:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, and national original. Title VII applies to all private employers, state and local governments, and education institutions that employ 15 or more individuals.
- Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law essentially applies the standards of Title VII to the federal government as an employer.
- Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Fair Pay Act changes when the statute of limitations begins for workers’ claims of pay discrimination under Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) to declare that an unlawful employment practice occurs not only when a discriminatory pay decision or practice is adopted but also when the employee becomes subject to the decision or practice, as well as each additional application of that decision or practice. In other words, each time compensation is paid.
- Equal Pay Act. The EPA prohibits sex-based pay discrimination between men and women who perform under similar working conditions. The EPA applies to all employers covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA, which is part of Title VII, prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA prohibits discrimination against pregnant women and parents as well as employees with serious health conditions. In 2008, two new types of FMLA leave were created which gives job-protected leave for family of members of the armed services.
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The ADEA prohibits discrimination against employees age 40 and older. The ADEA covers private employers with 20 or more employees, state and local governments (including school districts), employment agencies, and labor organizations.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). The ADA and ADAAA prohibit discrimination against a qualified employees or job applicants with a disability because of the disability, association with someone with a disability, or because the employer sees an employee as disabled, even if he actually isn’t. The ADA and ADAAA applies to the same list of employers as Title VII.
- Nineteenth Century Civil Rights Act. This Act, amended in 1993, ensure all persons equal rights under the law and outline the damages available under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, the ADA, and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.
- Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA).The federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits employers, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against employees based on genetic information. It also prohibits insurers from charging higher premiums based on genetic information or from using genetic information in underwriting decisions.
In addition to federal laws, many states also have laws similar to the ones above prohibiting discrimination and some include even more protected categories than the federal laws cover.
State-by-state comparision of 50 laws in all 50 states including discrimination laws
Sexual orientation discrimination
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a proposed federal law that would prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. Sexual orientation discrimination currently is not explicitly prohibited under federal law. Certain states have enacted discrimination laws that apply to homosexual, bisexual, and transsexual individuals. In some states, sexual orientation discrimination is prohibited only in certain municipalities. There have also been attempts to provide discrimination protections through court cases interpreting existing sex discrimination laws.
HR Guide to Employment Law: A practical compliance reference manual covering 14 topics, including discrimination
What happens when an employee files a discrimination charge with the EEOC?
Before an employee can file a discrimination complaint against her employer under Title VII, she must file a charge with the EEOC. If the EEOC finds the claim has merit, it may sue on her behalf. If it decides not to represent the employee, it will issue her a “right-to-sue” letter and then she can file a complaint and begin the litigation process.
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