Knowing Your Rights: Employment and Anti-Discrimination Laws in the Workplace

A business can only be considered truly successful if there is harmony in the workplace. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that their employees feel safe and valued. Moreover, it is the employer’s duty to make sure that the workplace is a safe and inclusive environment where people are free to work and express themselves without any fear of harassment or discrimination.

How do you know it’s discrimination? 

Now that a lot of people are working remotely, workplace discrimination may look a little different. This is why it’s important to know exactly what it means so you can prevent it or defend yourself from it.

Workplace discrimination is when an employee is treated wrongfully against his or her protected characteristic. The range of protected characteristics may vary from state to state but federal anti-discrimination laws consider race, gender, color, religion, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, age, and genetic information as protected characteristics. Based on this, all employees must be protected from discrimination.

While a lot of people may think that discrimination only occurs during decisive events, such as termination of employment, the truth is it can occur during any aspect of the employment relationship, which includes hiring, employment, and termination. It can exist in the everyday aspects of employment, such as disparate discipline, denial of responsibilities, rescission, or denial of preferred shifts.

What are the kinds of workplace discrimination? 

Whichever way you look at it, workplace discrimination is wrong, illegal, and must be avoided at all costs. However, there are times when workplace discrimination is unclear to employees.

Here are five of the most common types of discrimination:

  • Retaliation – For example:  Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employees have the right to a safe and healthy workplace. In the event that a worker lawfully reports unsafe or unhealthful conditions in their place of work, the employer is prohibited by law from taking adverse actions against the said employee in retaliation. Another example of retaliation in the workplace is when you complain to your company’s HR department about coworkers harassing you and making discriminating remarks about you and you are assigned to a different department and later on, fired.
  • Racial discrimination – no employee should be discriminated against based on their race. It is important that employers ensure that the workplace is not only ‘not racist’ but also ‘anti-racist.’ Employers must take the necessary steps to ensure that employees of color are protected from any form of racial discrimination.

It is considered racial discrimination in the workplace is when certain rules or policies in the workplace places people of certain race or ethnicity at a disadvantage. For example, a Black woman applies for a job position in a predominantly white company. Although she meets all the requirements, the employer rejects her and tells her she wouldn’t be a good fit for the position.

  • Sex discrimination – no employee should be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. All employees should have fair compensation and consideration regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, or the pronouns they prefer.

Sex discrimination can be direct or indirect. An example of sex discrimination is when an employer refuses to promote women in the workplace because they go off to have children anyway. Sexual jokes from an employer or coworker can also be considered discriminatory.

  • Disability discrimination – no employee should be discriminated against based on their disability status. There are many aspects to disability discrimination.  One aspect is that any differently-abled person, be they a qualified candidate, shall not be excluded from consideration for a particular position.

A workplace that has physical barriers that prevent people with physical disabilities to move freely around can be a good example of disability discrimination. If the employer continues to refuse to provide reasonable accommodation for PWD employees, then it is another form of discriminating a person with disability.

  • Age discrimination – no employee should be discriminated against based on their age. This usually happens when an employer turns down an applicant because of the perceived limitations that come with their age. Employers are also prohibited from failing to promote or compensate employees based on their clients’ age.

One of the most common examples of age discrimination is when an applicant is rejected because they are too old or too young. similarly, it’s also a form of age discrimination when younger applicants are not hired simply because it is assumed that they will only move on to another job.

There are many examples of discrimination in the workplace. It’s important that you make it a point to know and understand what these are to protect yourself against such incidents.

What are the different anti-discrimination laws? 

Employers should be responsible enough to know the different anti-discrimination laws that govern how they can and cannot treat employees.

  • AMERICAN WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990 (ADA)

This act prevents discrimination against persons with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment. This law also ensures that differently-abled persons are fully considered qualified applicants during the hiring process and given reasonable accommodations in the workplace if necessary. It applies to companies with at least 15 employees.

Please see the American With Disabilities Act website for more information about this law.

  • AGE DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT ACT OF 1967 (ADEA)

Employees who are 40 years or older are protected from discrimination in the workplace. This applies to businesses with more than 20 employees.

You can find more details about the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 in the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.

  • TITLE VII OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964 (TITLE VII)

This law prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees based on their color, race, sex, religion, or national origin. This is also the act that protects employees against employers retaliating against those who exercise their legal rights, like whistleblowing. This law applies to private and government organizations.

You can further read about the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.

  • PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION ACT OF 1987 (PDA)

This act prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy-related conditions, like miscarriage and post-partum depression. It applies to all organizations covered under Title VII.

Read more about the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1987 on the US Equal Employment Opportunity site, too.

  • IMMIGRATION REFORM AND CONTROL ACT OF 1986 (IRCA)

It prevents employers from discriminating against applicants and workers based on their citizenship or ethnicity. Similarly, it prevents any company from hiring any workers who are undocumented by the US government.

For more information on the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, you can visit the Congress.gov site.

  • EQUAL PAY ACT OF 1963 (EPA)

Employers are required by law to equally pay men and women for performing the same jobs. Since EPA is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), companies are mandated to comply with the minimum wage, recordkeeping, overtime pay, and youth employment requirements and standards.

More details on the Equal Pay Act of 1963 can be found on the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission site.

  • TITLE II OF THE GENETIC INFORMATION NONDISCRIMINATION ACT OF 2008 (GINA)

This prevents employers from discriminating against workers based on their genetic information. It applies to federal and state governments, private companies with at least 15 workers, public and private agencies, labor organizations, and joint-labor management committees.

Read more about the Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 on the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

  • FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT (FMLA)

Employers are to provide covered employees with job-protected and unpaid family leave for qualifying events, including childbirth, adoption of a child, or the need to care for an immediate family member who is suffering from a life-threatening health condition. This applies to companies with at least 50 employees.

Find more information about the Family and  Medical Leave Act on the US Department of Labor site.

What happens when an employer commits discrimination? 

Since a company’s workers are the responsibility of the employer, the employer may face consequences if an employee experiences workplace discrimination based on the severity of the situation and the laws of the governing state. If an untoward incident causes physical and/or mental injuries to an employee, the employer can face legal actions.

In most states, workers’ compensation can pay for the injuries. However, it may not always be the remedy for a victim of workplace discrimination. The victims may also file a lawsuit in civil court in addition to filing a workers’ claim, which can cost a business a lot of money and put a strain on its reputation. An employer can face an even bigger problem if it is proven that they are liable for cultivating a work environment that tolerates or perpetuates discrimination.

A discrimination lawsuit can cost an employer a lot of money in several ways:

  • Emotional distress damages
  • Compensatory damages
  • Bad public relations
  • Attorney fees
  • Damages for lost wages and benefits
  • Interest fees
  • Statutory fees and penalties
  • Loss of employee morale
  • Loss of standing within the community
  • Time and business interruptions
  • Investigations by state or federal anti-discrimination agencies

How to prevent discrimination in the workplace? 

It is the company’s responsibility to protect its employees regardless of race, color of skin, sexual orientation, religion, or beliefs. To ensure that all employees have equal rights in the workplace, an employer should implement proper policies and training to educate everyone about anti-discrimination laws. There should also be written protocols that provide all personnel with the corresponding training to reinforce such laws.

There should also be a uniform system that addresses complaints or reports of discrimination. This should apply to all employees regardless of position to create a safer and more inclusive work environment, starting from the top down to the bottom. After all, business leaders should be the ones to set good examples that their employees can emulate.

By ensuring that all employees, from the top management down to the laborers, know their rights, everyone in the organization will know what is legally acceptable behavior. On top of that, this will foster respect between the employees and management.

How Safe Haven Dialogues can help? 

At Safe Haven Dialogues, we help the victims by using a Case history approach to guide them to describe the incident in detail. These include the Desired Outcome, Situation Description, Emotional Response, and Environmental Factors. A multidisciplinary core group or panel with Professional and Personal Experience (PPE) in handling systemic racism will investigate the case with the victims and assist them in looking at the problem from a different perspective to be able to come up with the best possible solutions that are suitable for their environment.

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