Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

Gender discrimination in the workplace happens when an employee or applicant is hired, promoted, paid, or treated in any way differently by an organization due to their gender.

What is gender or sex discrimination?

Gender or sex discrimination is when individuals are treated in a different way in the employment at work due to an employee being a man or a woman. If you’ve been refused employment, discharged, or otherwise maltreated during employment due to gender or sex, then gender discrimination may have been experienced.

In law, the terms “sex” and “gender” are treated the same, but these terms actually have different definitions. The term “sex” refers to a person's physical anatomy, which identifies a person as either male or female. The term “gender” is used for the set of traits that are traditionally associated with femaleness or maleness within a given culture. Discrimination is against the law whether based on gender, sex, or both. Gender or sex discrimination may be supplemented by other forms of discrimination, such as race, disability, or age discrimination. Discrimination due to pregnancy and sexual harassment are also considered forms of sex discrimination under the law.

Which national law covers gender discrimination or sex discrimination?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addresses prejudice against persons in firing, hiring, promotions, pay and other aspects of employment, such as raises and other job prospects due to their sex. Also, there are other laws protecting employees of federal contract employees from gender or sex discrimination. Enforcing federal laws which make illegal 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 similar to the EEOC to hand charges of discrimination at the local level. For more on the EEOC go to their website here.

Which employees are protected by these laws?

All companies are covered by Title VII. In addition, local and state governments, educational institutions, and all private organizations that employ more than fifteen employees. Further, employment agencies (public and private), labor unions who control training and apprentices. Both job seekers and employed workers enjoy the defense against discrimination provided by these laws. This means that someone is protected whether they are an employee that was fired, passed over for promotion, or somehow unaccommodated because of their gender or sex. Also, a person who is not hired because of their gender is also protected.

Can an organization compensate me a reduced amount because of my gender?

Compensation or payment of wages are both mentioned in Title VII and Equal Pay Act. It’s against the law to show bias based on gender in the compensation of employees. This means all forms of payment or other compensation including benefits, bonuses, salary, stock options and profit sharing, overtime pay, life insurance, holiday pay, hotel accommodations, travel reimbursements, expenses, gasoline allowances, bonus plans, vacations, cleaning allowances, and housing. This act requires that women and men are paid equally for equal jobs in the same place or company.

Title VII is slightly different because it doesn’t require the work of the person who was discriminated against to be equal to that of a person of the opposite sex who receives higher pay. Title VII also does not require the claimant be able to show that the higher-paid member of the opposite sex works in the same business. Organizations are not able to pay unequal compensation to women and men who do jobs requiring equal skill, responsibility, and effort and that are similar in conditions and are in the same business.

These difference are enforced by the same administrative agency the EEOC. Enforcing federal laws which make illegal 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.

Is it against the law to offer different benefits to employees of different genders?

It is illegal for an organization to show bias toward men over women regarding benefits. This means all forms of compensation or pay including benefits, bonuses, salary, stock options, profit sharing, overtime pay, life insurance, holiday pay, hotel accommodations, travel reimbursements, expenses, gasoline allowances, bonus plans, vacations, cleaning allowances, and housing. This act requires that women and men are paid equally for equal jobs in the same place or company. Organizations are also unable to provide benefits to workers and their families on whether the employee is the major bread winner. It is also illegal for an organization to have a retirement or pension plan that has different retirement ages that are based on gender or that bases benefits on sex.

Can an organization treat me differently due to pregnancy?

Discrimination because of pregnancy is considered to be discrimination based on gender or sex. Pregnancy, under the law, is treated as a temporary disability, exactly as are related medical conditions such as bed rest, morning sickness, recovery from childbirth, childbirth itself, and any medical condition that is related to childbirth and pregnancy. Title VII forbids organizations from treating women who are pregnant differently from other temporarily injured, sick, or disabled workers. Organizations must give employees who are pregnant and temporarily disabled mothers the same benefits and treatment that they give to workers with other disabilities that are temporary.

Can an organization treat me differently because of my marital status?

Marital status is not a protected characteristic in federal law. While these laws protect persons from discrimination based on their color, race religion, sex, disability, national origin, or age there are no overt protections for marital status. Some states have laws protecting workers from discrimination based on their marital status. Sex or gender discrimination and marital status discrimination can often coexist.

Can an organization treat me differently because I am a parent or caregiver of other family members?

Parental status is not a protected characteristic in federal law. While these laws protect persons from discrimination due to their color, race religion, sex, disability, national origin, or age there are no overt protections for parental status. Some states have laws protecting workers from discrimination based on their parental status. Sex or gender discrimination and parental status discrimination can often occur simultaneously.

What's the difference between sex discrimination and sexual harassment?

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 unlawful in all cases. To find out more on protections provided by The Civil Rights Act of 1964 go here.

My company has an affirmative action plan. How can this affect me?

Affirmative action goals and timetables are targets for equality, parity and a level playing field. Statistically there have never been more women in the work force than right now. At one time a woman with a career or even a job was somewhat rare and unusual. Today, it’s obvious that women have made long strides into the workforce, but unequal treatment persists. One issue that gets a lot of attention and can incite tempers to rise is the issue of equal pay. The United States Census Bureau says that statistically women earn only 80% of what men are paid. For every dollar a man makes for a particular job, a woman is paid only 80 cents for that same job.

Today, women are half of the United States workforce. 4 out of ten families have females as an equal or dominate, breadwinner. The reason that this is odd is because females ear more college and graduate degrees than their male counterparts. And still women continue to earn less. In addition, women are more likely to work in a service occupation than men. Examples of these service jobs are nursing assistants, personal care aides, home health aides and other roles that fit the stereotype as “women as caregivers”. While these jobs are on the rise, the median salary annually for jobs like these are only 25k per year.

Even with the recent emphasis on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) women are less likely to work in those fields than men. Reportedly, 10.3% of men in the workforce are employed in a STEM field. Compare that with the just 4.6% of women in the workforce are in STEM fields.

Age also plays a factor in the gap. Women under the age of 35 statistically earn nearly 90% of what men their age are paid. This gap broadens after the age of 35. Subsequent to age 35 the gap between what men and women earn becomes larger. Women in this post-35 earning group make 75 to 85 cents to a $1 earned by a man in the same job. Some might think that higher education is the answer to increasing earnings and narrowing the pay gap. However, this has not proven to be the case. Companies must implement policies that can effectively ensure that people are provided an opportunity to earn the same wage for the same job. For tips on creating an employee handbook go here.

Are height, weight, or lifting requirements legal?

A bona fide occupational requirement is one that is required for the efficient and safe performance of tasks, a height or weight requirement has been proved to disproportionately weed out women and members of some racial and ethnic groups. It is against the law for an organization to show bias toward men over women with regard to these requirements. How to use outside legal help quickly and efficiently. This means all forms of compensation or pay including benefits, bonuses, salary, stock options, profit sharing, overtime pay, life insurance, holiday pay, hotel accommodations, travel reimbursements, expenses, gasoline allowances, bonus plans, vacations, cleaning allowances, and housing. This act mandates that women and men are paid equally for equal jobs in the same place or company. Organizations are also unable to provide benefits to workers and their families on whether the employee is the major bread winner. It is also against the law for an organization to have a retirement or pension plan which has different retirement ages based on gender, or which bases benefits on sex.

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