Every employee in the United States has the right to a discrimination and harassment-free workplace. Sadly, however, thousands of employees across the country face hostility in the workplace every year. Such instances of discrimination or harassment are illegal and the employees who experience them may be entitled to compensation.
What is Workplace Discrimination?
Workplace discrimination and harassment involve employers committing negative employment actions based on workers’ characteristics or life statuses. Such actions are prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Depending on the state in which you reside, there may be additional protected classes, including pregnancy status, AIDS/HIV status, citizenship status, and more. Learn five of the most common forms of workplace discrimination below.
It is illegal to harass or perform negative employment actions against a person because of their race or color. Harassment may include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Racial slurs
- Derogatory remarks about a person’s race or color
- Display of racially-offensive symbols
Workplace discrimination laws do not prohibit every instance of teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents. What they do prohibit, however, is behavior that is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment or leads to a negative employment action, such as demotion or termination.
Other instances of workplace discrimination involve an employee being fired, demoted, or denied a promotion due to their race or color. Additionally, sweeping company policies can be illegal if they have a negative impact on people of a particular race or color and is not necessary to the operation of the business. For example, a "no-beard" policy may be unlawful if it has a negative impact on the employment of African-American men (who have a predisposition to a skin condition that causes severe shaving bumps).
Sex discrimination involves treating an employee or applicant differently because of their sex. In addition to discrimination based on biological sex, discrimination based on sexual orientation is also illegal.
A major form of sex discrimination is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Requests for sexual favors
- Other verbal, physical, or electronic harassment of a sexual nature
Sexual harassment is not limited to sexual behavior. Any behavior that involves offensive comments about a person’s sex, whether male or female, can be considered harassment. Additionally, it does not matter the sex of the harasser or the recipient of the harassment. Sexual harassment may occur between individuals of the same or opposite sex.
Age discrimination involves treating an employee or applicant differently because of their age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. This federal law does not protect employees under the age of 40. Several states, however, have implemented their own age discrimination laws that may provide additional protections.
It is illegal to harass or perform a negative employment action against an employee on the basis of their religion, practices, or moral beliefs. These laws protect those who practice religion, as well as those who are married to or are otherwise associated with people who practice religion.
In addition to prohibiting offense remarks about a person’s religion, Title VII also prohibits workplace or job segregation based on religion, including garb or grooming practices. For example, an employer may not prohibit a person of a particular religion from working customer service positions based on actual or feared customer preferences.
The law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for a person’s religious beliefs, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal business interruption. Examples of such accommodations include:
- Flexible scheduling
- Voluntary shift substitutions or swaps
- Job reassignments
- Modifications to workplace policies or practices
Disability discrimination occurs when an employer covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act treats an employee or applicant with a disability differently. Federal law protects individuals who have a disability, as defined by one of the following:
- A physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning)
- A history of a disability (such as cancer that is in remission)
- A physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he or she does not have such an impairment)
Employers may not ask applicants to answer disability-related questions when considering them for employment. For current employees, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations, such as making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users or providing a reader or interpreter for someone who is blind or hearing impaired.
How to Report Workplace Discrimination
You have the right to report instances of workplace discrimination without fearing that you will be demoted or fired. If you were fired after reporting workplace discrimination, you may have a viable wrongful termination claim.
At Pearson Butler, our employment law attorneys can help you file a strong claim and protect your rights as an employee and an individual. We understand that not all employers will do the right thing when faced with discrimination claims and we’re here to help protect your rights, your career, and your financial stability.
Contact Pearson Butler at (800) 265-2314 to schedule a consultation.