Discrimination is a problem that affects people all over the world. Thankfully, some laws protect workers and people who want to work. These laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), make it illegal to discriminate at work. This means you can't discriminate in any aspect of employment, including:
- Hiring and firing
- Layoff or recall
- Fringe benefits
- Other terms and conditions of employment
Under these laws, discriminatory practices include:
- Any discrimination against a protected class on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age.
- Retaliation against someone for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation, or opposing discriminatory practices.
- Employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities, traits, or performance of people of a specific sex, race, age, religion, or ethnic group or individuals with disabilities.
- Title VII makes it illegal to deny someone a job because of their marriage or connection to someone of a certain race, religion, nationality, or disability. It also makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because they go to a school or place of worship connected to a certain racial, ethnic, or religious group.
Employers must post notices for all employees about their rights. These notices must be accessible to people with disabilities that affect reading.
Note: Many states and municipalities have laws against discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, being a parent, marital status, and political affiliation. Contact the nearest Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEOC District Office for more information or to file a disability discrimination complaint.
Other Discriminatory Practices Under Federal EEOC Laws
Violations of Title VII
Title VII bans not only intentional discrimination but also practices that have the effect of discriminating against people because of their race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.
National Origin Discrimination
It is illegal to discriminate against someone based on where they were born, their family background, their culture, or the language they speak because of their ethnic group. If a rule at work forces employees only to speak English, it may break Title VII unless the employer can prove it is necessary for the business. If the employer believes the rule is essential, they must tell employees when to speak English and what will happen if they don't.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) became law in 1986. It says employers have to ensure their employees are legally allowed to work in the U.S. If an employer only asks people of certain nationalities or people looking foreign for proof, they may be breaking the law. All job applicants and employees must show proof. Employers who only hire U.S. citizens or treat them better than others may also be breaking the law.
An employer must reasonably accommodate an employee's or prospective employee's religious beliefs unless doing so would impose an undue hardship.
Title VII's broad prohibitions against sex discrimination specifically cover:
- Sexual harassment: Includes direct requests for sexual favors and creates a hostile environment at work for any gender, including same-sex harassment. The "hostile environment" standard also applies to harassment based on race, color, national origin, religion, age, and disability.
- Pregnancy discrimination: Must treat pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions the same as other temporary illnesses or conditions.
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides more rights to parents and others. The U.S. Department of Labor enforces the FMLA.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
The ADEA's broad ban against age discrimination also specifically prohibits:
- Job notices or advertisements can state age preferences and limitations. The employer can only list an age limit if age is a necessary qualification for the job.
- Apprenticeship programs, including joint labor-management programs, cannot discriminate based on age.
- Employers cannot deny benefits to older employees. An employer can only reduce benefits based on age if it costs the same for older and younger employees.
Equal Pay Act of 1963
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) bans discrimination on the basis of sex in the payment of wages or benefits, where men and women perform work of similar skill, effort, and responsibility for the same employer under similar working conditions.
- Employers may not reduce wages of either sex to equalize pay between men and women
- A violation of the EPA may happen when an employer pays a different wage to a person who worked in the same job before or after an employee of the opposite sex
- A violation may also happen where a labor union causes the employer to violate the law
Titles I and V of the Americans With Disabilities Act
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all employment practices. To understand who the law protects and what is illegal discrimination, you must know several ADA definitions.
People With a Disability
Under the ADA, a person with a disability has a physical or mental impairment that greatly limits one or more important life activities. It can also include someone who has a history of such an impairment or is seen as having one. Important life activities are things that most people can do easily, like walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, speaking, learning, and working.
Qualified Individual With a Disability
A qualified employee or applicant with a disability satisfies skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position held or desired and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of that position.
Reasonable accommodation may include, but is not limited to:
- Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities
- Job restructuring
- Modification of work schedules
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices
- Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies
- Providing qualified readers or interpreters
Reasonable accommodation may be necessary to apply for a job, to perform job functions, or to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment that people without disabilities enjoy. An employer does not have to lower production standards to make an accommodation. An employer generally doesn't have to provide personal use items such as eyeglasses or hearing aids.
An employer must make a reasonable accommodation to a worker with a disability. The only exception is if doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer's business. Undue hardship means an action that requires significant difficulty or expense. These expenses relate to:
- A business' size
- Financial resources
- Nature and structure of its operation
Prohibited Inquiries and Examinations
An employer cannot ask applicants about their disabilities before offering them a job. But they can ask applicants about their ability to do the job. If an employer requires a medical examination for all new employees in the same job category, they can make a job offer based on the examination results. Medical tests for employees must relate to the job and be necessary for the business.
Drug and Alcohol Use
If employees or applicants are using drugs illegally, the ADA does not protect them. If an employer takes action based on this drug use, the ADA does not apply. Drug tests are not considered medical exams and are not subject to the ADA's restrictions on medical exams. Employers can hold people who use drugs illegally or have alcoholism to the same performance standards as other employees.
The Civil Rights Act of 1991
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 changed federal employment discrimination laws enforced by EEOC. It reversed Supreme Court decisions that limited the rights of protected people. The act also gives more protections. It allows for compensatory and punitive damages in intentional discrimination cases. It allows collecting attorneys' fees and the chance for jury trials.
Contact an Employment Law Attorney Today if You're Struggling With Workplace Discrimination
Whether you're working for a public or private employer, no one has to tolerate a discriminatory work environment. Contact an attorney for help with your discrimination claim today.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.