What Are Federal Discrimination Laws?

Federal discrimination laws are legislation that prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees based on characteristics, such as age, race, and religion.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is an overarching law that serves as an example of a federal discrimination law. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

This legislation prohibits employers from harassing or discriminating against job applicants or employees on the basis of a protected characteristic such as:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religious beliefs
  • National origin and more

This legislation also prohibits any employer from retaliation against employees or job applicants who assert their rights under this act. This law applies to employers in the following categories:

  • The federal government
  • State governments, including their political agencies
  • Private employers with a minimum of 15 employees
  • Joint labor-management committees, labor organizations and other types of training programs
  • Employment agencies

Age Discrimination in Employment Act

Prohibits employers with at least 20 employees from discriminating against employees who are at least 40 years old because of their age.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Prohibits employers from discriminating against people in all employment-related matters solely because of:

  • Current disabilities
  • History of disability
  • Incorrectly perceived as suffering from a disability

Federal job applicants, employees, and independent contractors are exempt from this law.

Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act requires employers to provide equal pay to men and women for equal work. However, employers are allowed to pay men and women different salaries even if they are doing the same work, if the discrepancy in pay is based on an incentive system, merit, seniority or any other factor that does not include gender.

Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

This act prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin or citizenship, and knowingly employing individuals who are not authorized to work in the United States.

Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Section 1981)

Section 1981 of this act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)

GINA prohibits employers from asking employees to provide their genetic information, and from making employment decisions based on an employee’s or job applicant’s genetic information. This legislation also requires employers to keep that information confidential.

There are exemptions for, among other things:

  • Informational purposes related to genetic monitoring
  • Information gained inadvertently
  • Information collected according to the requirements for FMLA certification

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide them with 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year for the following reasons:

  • Adoption or birth of a child
  • To attend to an immediate family member’s serious health condition
  • To attend to a serious health condition of their own

After the 12 weeks of unpaid leave have been used, employers are required to reinstate the employee to their former position. If it is no longer available, the employee must be offered an equivalent one.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) addresses minimum-wage requirements, overtime pay, and child labor.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)

ERISA contains detailed requirements for certain employers who offer their employees a retirement plan or welfare benefit plan, such as health insurance.

Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA)

COBRA requires employers with 20 or more employees to offer them the right to a continuation of their group health insurance after their employment ends.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

This law prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, whether real or perceived. Protects women who are planning to become pregnant or are already pregnant from wrongful termination and discrimination in the hiring process.

Rehabilitation Act

The rehabilitation act protects federal job applicants and employees from discrimination based on disability.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act

This act grants all credit applicants protection from discrimination by creditors on the basis of:

  • Age
  • Color
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Familial Status
  • National Origin
  • Whether the applicant is using public assistance

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the following areas:

  • Making statements or advertising that indicates preferences or limitations based on protected characteristics
  • Making housing unavailable
  • Refusal to negotiate for, sell, or rent housing
  • Providing different housing facilities or services
  • Setting different privileges, conditions, or terms, for the rental or sale of a dwelling
  • Falsely denying the availability of housing for rental, sale, or inspection
  • Denying anyone membership or access to a service or facility related to the rental or sale of housing
  • Blockbusting
  • Refusing to offer a mortgage loan
  • Imposing different conditions and/or terms for loans, including fees, points, or interest rates
  • Refusing to provide information about loan products
  • Refusing to purchase a loan
  • Discriminating in the appraisal of property

Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was created to prevent and remedy racial discrimination in the voting process.

Section 2 prohibits voting practices which have the result or purpose of discriminating against members of a racial or minority language group.

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act

This requires that relief operations be impartial and equitable. It prohibits discrimination during an official disaster or emergency on the basis of:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Color
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Economic Status
  • Nationality

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