Your Rights in the Workplace: Illegal Discrimination
Over half of all employees report having experienced discrimination at their current workplaces. While we like to believe that employers who discriminate are few and far between, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Too many people don’t know their workplace rights, and that puts them at a serious disadvantage. Have you ever experienced workplace discrimination? Would you know if you had?
Workplace discrimination can start during the hiring process, during promotions, during workplace drug testing, and even in the break room. We’re here to talk all about the basics of discrimination, so you know how to handle it.
Read on to learn more.
What Protects Workers From Discrimination?
If you’re an employee, you are legally protected against workplace discrimination, but unfortunately, too many people don’t know their rights, and some employers count on that fact so they can continue manipulating and mistreating workers.
There are a few protections in place, however, that you should know about.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees against discrimination based on, for example, race, sex, religion, and nationality. This is a basic level of protection put in place in 1964.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 aims to prevent sex-based wage discrimination. As long as the jobs require equal skill and the employee meets the requirements, an employer must pay them the same regardless of gender.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees with disabilities from discrimination. No employer may reject, fire, or otherwise discriminate against an employee with a disability who is able to do their job. The employer must also provide reasonable accommodations.
New Jersey also has protections in place for employees. Included in this are the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Diane B Allen Equal Pay Act. These are similar to federal protections, but they also add protection for things like civil union status, hereditary blood traits, ancestry, and more.
Types of Illegal Discrimination
So how do you know if you’re being discriminated against illegally? Discrimination, typically speaking, refers to protected classes. There are a few basic categories that you should know, however.
Legally, a workplace cannot discriminate against someone because of their age. This means that an employer cannot favor an employee who is under 40 over an employee who is aged 40 or older.
Note that in many states, this doesn’t work both ways. Employers may favor older employees, and that isn’t considered age discrimination.
Race or Ethnicity Discrimination
It is federally illegal to discriminate against an employee due to their race, ethnicity, or the color of their skin. The law covers harassment, intimidation, and any other repeated behavior that’s deemed hostile. It also covers wage differences due to race, hiring or firing due to race, and more.
Discrimination Against LGBTQIA+ Workers
Discrimination against people in the LGBTQIA+ community has always taken place. It is, however, illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee due to their sexual orientation. Title VII also protects workers who are transgender or nonbinary as it protects gender identity.
It’s illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone due to their gender as long as they’re able to complete the task at hand. It is also illegal to pay employees differently due to their gender.
This also covers workplace sexual harassment.
Pregnancy can also be filed under this category. While many employers skirt the rules, it is illegal to refuse to hire a pregnant person exclusively because of their pregnancy. Similarly, it’s also illegal to fire someone due to pregnancy.
As mentioned, the ADA protects workers with disabilities. This also includes workers who have conditions such as HIV or AIDS. Many employees aren’t aware of this.
Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for all employees with disabilities.
Can Workplace Drug Testing Be Discriminatory?
Workplace drug testing can be discriminatory.
It is legal for employers to require drug tests, but they must do so fairly. If an employer is singling out employees of a specific race, sexual orientation, or gender, that employer is being discriminatory.
Also, if an employer is using a drug test as a reason to fire an employee who is taking a legal prescription drug from their doctor, that’s illegal based on the ADA.
Employer Do’s and Don’ts
Employers should take care to avoid discrimination in the workplace. An employer also accepts responsibility for their employees, so if employees are engaging in discrimination, employers are expected to put a stop to it.
Some helpful employer “do’s” include:
- Put essential tasks and requirements in job listings
- Require anti-harassment and discrimination training
- Ask all applicants the same questions
- Check-in with employees
- Respect cultural differences
- Talk to a lawyer if you’re unsure
Helpful employer “don’ts” include (among others):
- Don’t reject requests for reasonable accommodations
- Don’t ask about details of someone’s disability
- Don’t disregard discrimination complaints
- Don’t tolerate workplace harassment
Employee Do’s and Don’ts
Are you an employee? What can you do to prevent or handle workplace discrimination?
While the bulk of the responsibility rests on your employer, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Here are a few quick employee “do’s”:
- If you see something, say something
- Respect everyone’s differences
- Report harassment when you notice it
- Record instances of harassment and collect evidence
- Contact an attorney if you experience workplace harassment
So, with that in mind, what shouldn’t you do? Employee “don’ts” include:
- Don’t tolerate harassment and discrimination
- Don’t quit without contacting a lawyer
Getting legal help as soon as you recognize a problem is game-changing. Knowing your legal rights is empowering and can save your job or help your coworkers.
No One Should Deal With Workplace Discrimination
Discrimination in the workplace is against the law. If you or a coworker has experienced illegal discrimination during the hiring process, workplace drug testing, employee training, or elsewhere, it’s time to seek legal help. At McOmber McOmber & Luber, we have decades of experience supporting employees’ workplace rights. Check out our Comprehensive Guide to Workplace Harassment to learn more, or contact us for a free consultation today.