Discrimination Laws

Discrimination laws protect people from being treated differently, given opportunity differently, or serviced differently based on their color, race, national origin, religion, gender, or disability.

Employment Discrimination

There are many forms of discrimination in a place of work. Harassment can also take place in businesses and organizations. While it is sometimes overt misconduct (for example racial slurs) sometimes it is very subtle (for example when pay increases are less for no other reason than someone’s protected classification). When one of these protected characteristics is present and someone is treated differently because of them, then it is discrimination. If an individual who is a woman, a minority, or has a disability is passed over from promotions again and again despite their qualifications for the position, then there are grounds for discrimination. This discrimination is illegal in any aspect of employment: who gets hired, fired, promoted, how people are compensated, what benefits they are offered, what positions they are considered for and on and on. Executive Order 11246 is the law watched closely by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Unfair treatment of employees by an employer is dependent on workplace actions like firing, hiring, promoting or demoting based on a prejudice. Affirmative action is can help insulate an employer from such claims. Some states have laws on the books regarding the prohibition of discrimination which are even more strict that the federal law. It's important that employers do an investigation into any claim of workplace harassment, employment discrimination or any other workplace conflict in a way that reduces the chance that the organization is legally liable. Resolve situations such as these in a way that all parties are clear on what the right and wrong things to do in the workplace.

Equal Pay Act

Employment discrimination is held by the courts to have occurred when a job applicant or an employee is treated unfairly because of their gender, race, national origin, age, religion, disability, or familial status (i.e. pregnancy). The Equal Pay Act (EPA) prohibits unions or employers from compensating differently based on the worker’s gender. Anyone who has one of the protected characteristics is a member of a protected class. Even if the individual is not a member of a protected class, if the employer perceives that the employee or applicant is a member of a protected class then that individual can be discriminated against. A refusal to hire an individual, more harsh discipline, refusal to promote, less pay, unfair termination, or a denial of training are all examples of forms that discrimination can take. Go here for a fuller definition of discrimination.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

If an employee is working in some aspect of commerce on an interstate level then The Fair Labor Standards Act applies to them. An employer's workers are also protected by this act if the enterprise engages in a significant amount of interstate commerce as a whole. Wage and hour regulations for many American workers are governed by the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act). For help in writing a legal and compliant handbook go here.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

While the statistics on harassment in the workplace favors it being a gender equality issue, it’s actually not. The behaviors prohibited by law are regardless of the victim’s sex or sexual orientation. Both sexes have been sexually harassed (unwanted advances, jokes and innuendo, offering advancement in exchange for sexual favors) in the workplace and it is illegal in all cases. For more information on protections provided by The Civil Rights Act of 1964 go here. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.

Enforcing federal laws that make workplace discrimination illegal in the United States is the responsibility of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). This commission was formed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VIII) as an organization within the federal government. The function of this agency is to enforce and interpret laws regarding workplace discrimination. In order to meet its objectives, the EEOC issues regulations interpreting the law, administers EEO laws for employees of the federal government, litigates cases of discrimination, and holds hearings. In addition, the EEOC receives discrimination charges from employees, researches these charges, and then tries to negotiate settlements between employers and employees.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VIII) requires employers to ensure that promotions and employment cannot be based on someone’s religion, race, sex or national origin. Claims of discrimination in the workforce are investigated and any violators prosecuted by the EEOC. Anti-discrimination laws that protect employees from discrimination are also implemented by the agency. Many states (and even companies) have agencies that are like the EEOC to hand charges of discrimination at the local level.

Age Discrimination (Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA))

How can age equality be achieved? In both the United States public policy can be effective in increasing gender equality. People in an industrialized nation must continue to encourage people to step beyond stereotypes and divorce the idea of age from the contributions of an individual. Age stereotypes are difficult to break because individuals are all apt to engage in stereotyping sometimes. It’s important to research the biases and measure inequality so that we one understand how to effect change. For more information on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act go here.

American With Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA (American with Disabilities Act) was passed in 1990 in order to keep those with handicaps from being discriminated against. This important act prohibits people who employ others from discriminating against people with disabilities. This protection applies to every aspect of their employment, including interviews, applications, testing, job assignments, , hiring, evaluations, leave, compensation, benefits, discipline, promotions, training, medical exams, firing and layoffs. Mental and physical handicaps are protected characteristics and therefore discrimination is prohibited by local and state governments, employment agencies, unions, and private employers. State workers are protected by the ADA (American with Disabilities Act), but workers may not sue their state employers for compensatory damages, a separate law, the Rehabilitation Act, protects federal employees from disability discrimination.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Enforcing federal laws that make workplace discrimination illegal in the United States is the responsibility of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). This commission was formed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VIII) as an organization within the federal government. The function of this agency is to enforce and interpret laws regarding workplace discrimination. In order to meet its objectives, the EEOC issues regulations interpreting the law, administers EEO laws for employees of the federal government, litigates cases of discrimination, and holds hearings. In addition, the EEOC receives discrimination charges from employees, researches these charges, and then tries to negotiate settlements between employers and employees.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VIII) requires employers to ensure that promotions and employment cannot be based on someone’s religion, race, sex or national origin. Claims of discrimination in the workforce are investigated and any violators prosecuted by the EEOC. Anti-discrimination laws that protect employees from discrimination are also implemented by the agency. Many states (and even companies) have agencies that are similar to the EEOC to hand charges of discrimination at the local level. For more information on legislative updates go here.

Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Section 1981)

African Americans are citizens and therefore entitled to the rights enjoyed by white men. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 (commonly referred to as Section 1981 because of its location in the United States Code) conferred these rights upon African Americans. These rights were numerous but included the right to be sued or to sue in court, to testify or give evidence in a suit filed by someone else, to purchase merchandise and property. Additional rights included the right to sign, make and enforce legally binding contracts, which courts have held that this act also prohibits discrimination in the workplace.

Civil Rights Act of 1991 (CRA)

The low wage workforce is overrepresented by women. In a report in 2010 by the GOA (Government Accountability Office), females made up almost 60 percent of this portion of the workforce. Other highlights of this report included:

  • Less-educated women were more likely to work part-time than less-educated men
  • Single woman had the lowest annual income of households, at roughly $27,000 annually
  • Low-wage single mother households would be the lowest if not for other sources of income like government aid and child support. Without these dollars, these households would be below the poverty line.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008

Leadership positions are not immune from the wage gap. It’s reported that less than 25 percent of CEOs in the United States are women. And those female CEOs make less than 75 percent of what a male CEO makes. Research into Fortune 500 organizations in regard to women in Corporate Officer positions as well as on Boards of Directors found that if a company had 3 or more board member who were women, that board gave 28 times the money to philanthropy than those with fewer women. This eye-popping number gives one pause. Look here for more on the workforce flexibility act.

Family and Medical Leave Act

Gender equality is easy to define. It is each person being treated the same regardless of their sex. To provide separate bathrooms for the sexes in not a policy of gender equality. Salary decisions, promotions, hiring decisions, firing decisions should all be made without regard to the sex of the individual. To further this point, pregnancy should be treated like any other medical condition that is temporary. It should not adversely affect that employee’s development, promotability, salary increases or any other aspect of employment. Employers are legally unable to discriminate based on pregnancy as a gender issue.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 prohibits compensation decisions based on gender or any other practice that is unlawful. This violation occurs each time compensation is paid pursuant to the discriminatory compensation decision or other practices and thereby extends the time in which an employee can bring a lawsuit. Enforcing federal laws that outlaw workplace discrimination in the United States is the responsibility of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). This commission was formed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VIII) as an organization within the federal government. The function of this agency is to enforce and interpret laws regarding workplace discrimination. In order to meet its objectives, the EEOC issues regulations interpreting the law, administers EEO laws for employees of the federal government, litigates cases of discrimination, and holds hearings. In addition, the EEOC receives discrimination charges from employees, researches these charges, and then tries to negotiate settlements between employers and employees.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VIII) requires employers to ensure that promotions and employment cannot be based on someone’s religion, race, sex or national origin.  Claims of discrimination in the workforce are investigated and any violators prosecuted by the EEOC. Anti-discrimination laws that protect employees from discrimination are also implemented by the agency. Many states (and even companies) have agencies that are like the EEOC to hand charges of discrimination at the local level.

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