We all have a workplace horror story, whether related to mistreatment by management, harassment by a colleague, or general employee abuse. Although all employee mistreatment is ethically questionable, there are some forms that are absolutely illegal. One such form involves discrimination.
Although the term ‘discrimination’ can be used to describe any form of differential treatment or behavior based on someone else’s real or perceived difference, employment law defines specific groups—known as ‘protected classes’—against whom discrimination specifically within the workplace is illegal.
Employment discrimination protections are governed by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which follows the legal guidelines provided by a battery of federal laws, policies and regulations, and other administratively or legally binding agreements.
Types of Employment Discrimination
Federal law prohibits workplace discrimination based on any of the following qualities:
- Age – In particular, workers age 40 or above cannot be discriminated against because of their age.
- Sex – This includes a ban on not only sexist behavior or assumptions, such as assuming female employees are less capable by virtue of their sex, but also bans on sexual harassment or other behavior that singles out victims based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or activities.
- National origin
- Race or ethnicity
- Pregnancy or reproductive status
- Genetic information
What are your Workplace Rights?
US federal law guarantees five fundamental rights for all workers in companies of more than 15 employees, regardless of citizenship or work authorization status. All workers have the right to:
- Work free of discrimination. This means your employer cannot make decisions about your job or employment status based on any of the above-referenced personal qualities. For example, you cannot be demoted or fired from you job if you become pregnant.
- Work free of harassment. You are entitled to work in an environment where you are not harassed by co-workers based on the above-referenced personal qualities. If a colleague teases you about your sexual orientation, this constitutes the creation of a hostile work environment, and is a violation of this right.
- Complain about workplace discrimination without punishment. Your employer cannot penalize or punish you for filing a formal workplace grievance related to discrimination or harassment, regardless of whether illegal discrimination is ultimately found to have occurred.
- Request reasonable workplace accommodations for religion or disability. This does not necessarily mean that your employer must accommodate all requests. However, they must give reasonable consideration to these requests, and cannot penalize or punish you for making the request.
- Keep your medical or genetic information private. There are legal limitations on what employers are permitted to ask employees about their health or medical status, and any genetic or medical-related information they collect must be kept in strict confidence.
What to do if you’ve been discriminated against
If you feel you have experienced workplace discrimination, you may be considering filing a claim or grievance. Filing a successful claim can be difficult—for example, depending on the discrimination category, there are strict requirements relating to how soon after the discriminatory behavior occurred within which you must file your claim in order for the claim to be considered (called ‘statute of limitations.’) Your best bet to ensure a successful claim is to consult with an experienced employment lawyer.
This blog post was submitted by The Dominguez Firm. Their attorneys can help you navigate the claims process and bring justice for yourself, as well as cultivate a healthier workplace environment. Schedule a free consultation by calling 800-818-1818.