Employment Discrimination Laws

Stay Abreast of State, Local, and Federal Regulations about Discrimination

All employment practices are governed by non-discrimination laws.
Dirk Freder/E+/Getty Images

Reader Question:

What are the Employment Discrimination Laws?

Human Resources Response:

Discrimination in many things related to employment is illegal. Employers must take careful measures to assure that decisions they make in any aspect of employment are legal, ethical, and supported by documentation of the facts and qualifications.

Employment discrimination laws are clear that employment discrimination is unacceptable and illegal.

Companies cannot legally discriminate against people based on factors such as race, gender, pregnancy and disability. How those laws are applied vary greatly. Businesses and hiring managers should be careful to follow the law in all situation.

There are federal laws that everyone must follow and state and local anti-discrimination laws that employers must follow in the local areas. Don't think that just because something isn't covered on this list that it's not covered.

For instance, there is no federal law that prohibits discrimination against people who are overweight (unless that weight counts as a disability), but Michigan and six cities have such laws on the books.

Additional Federal laws may exist that address employment discrimination, so do not consider this list comprehensive. When you consider employment discrimination laws, the more stringent standard, either state or Federal, is generally applied in employment discrimination lawsuits.

Many of these laws are old and established, yet they still cause problems. For instance, in 2015, the Supreme Court decided a court case that involved 1964's Title VII law. In this case, a young woman interviewed at Abercrombie and Fitch while wearing a headscarf.

She scored high and would normally have been offered a job, but they rejected her due to the headscarf.

The court ruled that the company should have asked if she wore it for religious reasons rather than waiting for her to ask.  

After all, she didn't know that the scarf was against their regular policy. I would have thought that this was an example of obvious discrimination, but the case wended its way all the way to the Supreme Court for a decision.

Laws that Affect Employers

Here are some of the Federal laws that protect employees or would-be employees. This is not a comprehensive list as it is difficult to stay on top of the constant additions to legislation. When in doubt about laws that could affect your location, check with your state equivalent of the Federal Department of Labor and an employment law attorney.

  • Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability. (Individual states may include employers with fewer employees.)
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991 provides monetary damages in cases where an employer has practiced intentional employment discrimination.
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) disallows employment discrimination based on genetic information about an applicant, employee, or former employee.
  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to state that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing a pay discrimination lawsuit starts over with each new discriminatory paycheck.
  • Older Worker's Benefit Protection Act of 1990 protects older worker's benefits in things such as retirement and pensions.
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate against a woman due to pregnancy or childbirth. For example, you can't refuse to hire a pregnant woman because she's pregnant.

These are the primary Federal requirements in employment discrimination laws. Keep these in mind as you hire and discipline employees. Your prime focus should always be on performance and not on other issues.