Federal, state and local law prohibits discrimination in the workplace for a variety of categories. These include age, disability, pregnancy, race, national origin, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. An employer cannot give employees less favorable treatment for being in one of these protected classes. Similarly, an employer cannot fire or refuse to hire someone based on discriminatory reasons. Workplace discrimination can also be more subtle, as employers may be held liable for business policies that have a discriminatory effect. If an employer does not comply with anti-discrimination laws, it opens itself up the liability of a potential claim.
RACE and national origin DISCRIMINATION
Race and national origin discrimination are prevalent workplace issues throughout the United States. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of their race and national origin in hiring, firing, discipline, promotion, compensation, distribution of benefits or any other condition of employment. An example of this category of discrimination includes refusing to hire someone based on their race or national origin, despite the individual’s otherwise qualified background.
The law requires that the workplace be an equal opportunity environment for both men and women. Gender discrimination laws protect employees from issues concerning unfair treatment directed at one gender, unequal pay and disparity in promotions between genders. Another form of gender discrimination is sexual harassment, which occurs when an employee receives unwelcome sexual advances in the workplace. Recently, New York State and New York City anti-sexual harassment laws have been made stricter to combat this issue in the workplace.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION DISCRIMINATION
Passed in New York in 2002, the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation. Examples of sexual orientation discrimination include being denied a promotion or facing harassment by your co-workers based on your sexual preference.
According to the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), employers cannot treat an employee differently from others based on the employee’s age. Unfortunately, too many employees are fired or constructively dismissed due to their age, and employers may attempt to conceal their violations as cutbacks, layoffs or based on performance issues. However, not all employees are covered under the ADEA. Employees over the age of 40 are protected against age discrimination as long as their employer has 20 or more employees. New York has more inclusive protections under the New York State Human Rights Law, which covers employers with four or more employees and protects persons 18 and over from age discrimination.
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, it is illegal to discriminate against a woman because of her pregnancy. Additionally, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to provide disability and parenting leaves. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states that discrimination based on current, past, or intended pregnancy is prohibited and requires employers with 50 or more employees to allow male and female employees to take unpaid leave to care for a newborn or a recently adopted child. Under the law, if an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer must treat her just as they would a temporarily disabled employee.
Religious discrimination laws prevent employers from treating employees differently due to the employee’s religious affiliations or beliefs. Employers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious beliefs and practices, so long as there is not an undue hardship on the employer. Additionally, it is illegal for an employee to be harassed in the workplace by co-workers due to their religious affiliations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act both offer protection to employees with disabilities that substantially limit a “major life activity.” These include walking, sitting or hearing. If an employee with a disability requires a “reasonable” accommodation to properly do their job, they are protected under federal law. An employer must comply with the reasonable accommodation for the employee as long as it does not impose an undue hardship.
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