Question: Is Discrimination in Any Aspect of Employment Legal?
Short answer? Discrimination is always illegal. Always. Even subconscious discrimination is illegal. So, employers need to keep a close eye on every policy, procedure, and practice. If you deal with prospective employees, current employees, and past employees, you cannot discriminate,
More? Discrimination is adverse work treatment of an employee or a prospective employee that is based on a class or category of which the employee is a member.
This is differentiated from employment treatment that is based on the employee's individual merit which is how employers should make decisions about any situation related to employment.
Discrimination in the workplace is the act of treating a particular group or person differently based solely on a protected classification. Discrimination in employment is illegal according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Types of Employment Discrimination
Workplace discrimination is prohibited by law on the basis of the following characteristics. While state laws may differ, the federal laws prohibit discrimination in employment for:
- Gender or sex
- Equal pay/Compensation
- National origin
- Genetic Information
- Sexual Harassment
Growing in popularity in various states and at the Federal level are laws, law suits and opinions that discrimination in the workplace should be prohibited also for sexual orientation and weight.
Discrimination Is Obvious or Hidden in Employment Practices
Employment practices that are considered to be discrimination involve any biased behavior in employee selection, hiring, job assignment, compensation, promotion, employment termination, setting wages and compensation, testing, training, apprenticeships, internships, retaliation, and various types of harassment that are based on these protected classifications.
Discrimination can be obvious or it can be hidden. An example of obvious discrimination is to reject a candidate during your hiring team's debrief meeting because your experience of blacks is that they don't work very hard. All of your coworkers, when they get over their shock, would call you on this obvious discriminatory statement.
However, when discrimination is more likely to occur is silently in the beliefs, attitudes, and values that you apply in your mind to the candidates. You may never say out loud that in your experience, blacks don't work as hard as whites. But, if you think this and believe this, you'll find another nondiscriminatory way to reject the candidate.
This happens everyday in workplaces around the world and I cannot emphasize strongly enough that as managers and HR leaders you need to avoid this practice. It is wrong on so many levels to allow any prejudices you hold personally to affect the decisions you make in employment.
Additional Protections against Discrimination
Additional protections exist against discrimination under Federal laws. Protections from discrimination include the following.
- Harassment in employment settings of people based on age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or genetic information is prohibited.
- Retaliation against a person for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation of alleged discrimination, or opposing discriminatory practices is prohibited.
- Employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about people who are included in any of the classifications are prohibited.
- Employment opportunities may not be denied to a person based on their relationship to or association with any individual who is protected under these classifications.
Oversight of Employment Discrimination
These discrimination laws are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC also provides oversight, guidelines, and coordination of Federal equal employment opportunity regulations, practices, and policies.
In the instance of a lawsuit filed against an employer, for example, an employee who is fired for over using Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) intermittant time off, you will most often experience an EEOC lawsuit at the same time.
It is easy for an employee or ex-employee to claim that one of the above mentioned protected classifications was violated in conjunction with another lawsuit.
Consequently, you need professional, thorough documentation of any decisions that you make related to job candidates and your current and former employees in the areas listed earlier in this article.
Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.
The site has a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country, so the site cannot be definitive on all of them for your workplace. When in doubt, always seek legal counsel or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. The information on this site is for guidance, ideas, and assistance only.