Understanding Workplace Discrimination

Group of Business People Busy Working in the Office
Group of Business People Busy Working in the Office

Fortunately, in the United States, there are both federal and state laws that help protect employees from issues such as discrimination and unfair labor practices in the workplace.  However, there are still times when unfair situations arise. These workplace issues fall under the category of employment law.  Employment law encompasses discrimination, privacy, safety, and many more issues.  Probably the most common legal issue with employment law is discrimination.

What is Workplace Discrimination?

Federal law prohibits employers from discrimination based on gender, race, religion, disability, ethnicity, or age.  While it is possible that the discrimination is obvious, many times it takes a much subtler form. Any employer who violates these workplace laws can be taken to civil court.   Some of the most common issues are discrimination during the hiring and promotion process, and also wrongful termination.  While the reasons for discrimination vary, the common underlying theme is that people who are considered part of a “protected class” such as women and minorities are treated unfairly.

Types of Employment Discrimination

The following are some of the types of discrimination that are subject to employment law and regulations:

Age Discrimination

If you are 40 years or older, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects you against discrimination by employees at any stage of the employment process. Employers are also prohibited from reducing benefits or forcing early retirement under ADEA.

Disability Discrimination

Those with disabilities are protected from discrimination by the American Disabilities Act (ADA).  Under ADA, people who have a disability should not be discriminated against if they have the ability to perform the job despite their disability. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for any employee with a disability.

Gender Discrimination

Gender discrimination can take on several different forms.  It can occur when an employee is treated differently and unfairly during the hiring and promotion process.  And it can also occur in the form of sexual harassment.  It is a legal right of both women and men to be able to perform their jobs in an environment that is free of sexual misconduct.

Pregnancy Discrimination

Pregnancy is considered to be a protected status under employment law and employers cannot factor in a pregnancy when making decisions on hiring, firing, or promoting someone.   Also, a pregnant women’s job is protected under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  She must be treated no differently than other temporarily disabled workers are treated.

Race Discrimination

Many laws have been passed at both the state and federal level to protect employees from racial discrimination, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from refusing to hire, pay an employee less, or segregate them based on their race.

Religious Discrimination

Both the First Amendment and the Civil Rights Act protect workers from religious discrimination.  Employees’ religious freedoms are protected at work through their ability to maintain their beliefs keep their religious practices.  These may include observance of religious holidays, avoiding some speech and behaviors, and clothing and hairstyle choices. It is an employer’s duty under employment law to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of its employees.