Employment discrimination is a serious issue that can rear its head in myriad workplace situations. It is an issue in hiring decisions, firings, staff promotions and many other business actions. Because discrimination lawsuits can be costly and time-consuming for any employer, it is best that companies with employees are well versed in the national and state laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment. These common questions and their answers can provide a basic knowledge of the issues.
1. Question: What Is Employment Discrimination?
Employment discrimination is the decision not to hire or retain a person on the grounds of specific qualities. Various federal laws prohibit prejudicial treatment in a business setting based on age, sex, race, religion, color, national origin, disability, pregnancy and even genetic information. State laws may define these restrictions even more specifically.
2. Question: Is Sexual Orientation a Protected Category?
Sexual orientation is not a protected category according to the federal law, also known as Title VII. Some states, however, do prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
3. To Whom Do Anti-Discrimination Laws Apply?
Companies that have more than 15 employees must follow federal employment laws. Some states apply these rules to employers of all sizes, and still other cities or municipalities have local laws. It is each employer’s responsibility to know the laws that exist in the regions the company operates in.
4. Question: Does a Person Have to Be an Employee to Be Protected From Discrimination?
No. Job candidates also are protected by federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
5. Question: Do Discrimination Laws Apply Only to Hiring Practices?
No. Discriminatory actions are prohibited in: hiring, firing, compensation, promotions, training opportunities, testing, transfers, layoffs, benefits availability, apprenticeships, recruitment or use of company facilities.
6. What Is an At-Will Employment Situation?
The phrase “at-will” indicates that an employer can fire a worker for any reason or even no reason. However, at-will employees still enjoy protection under anti-discrimination laws, and if they feel they’ve been terminated based on prejudicial treatment, they can file a claim against their former employer.
7. Question: What Are the Most Common Discrimination Offenses?
Although the federal laws on discrimination are universally known, there still are some tangential offenses that come up repeatedly. For example, an employee might not be discriminated against because of race, but he or she might be targeted because of a marriage to a person of another race. Employees often are retaliated against if they file a discrimination claim, and that retaliation constitutes another offense. Sometimes people are denied employment because of their ties to schools or religious institutions that are affiliated with certain ethnic, racial or religious groups.
8. Question: What Are the Most Common Types of Hiring Discrimination?
There are plenty of explicit situations in which a person doesn’t get hired because he or she is over 50 years of age or has a disability that the employer doesn’t want to accommodate. However, there are subtler kinds of discrimination as well, such as posting job listings in places generally frequented by a certain race or pre-employment tests that favor one gender over the other. All applicants must have the same access to every employment opportunity.
9. Question: What Is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification?
A BFOQ is a defense employers use to claim a legitimate reason to require that all workers be a certain age or gender. This claim is rarely successful as a defense against discrimination liability.
10. Question: What Is the Role of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission?
The EEOC is the federal agency in charge of investigating allegations of employment discrimination or harassment. It also oversees hearings that result from claims. In most cases, a complainant must file a claim first with the EEOC before filing a private discrimination suit.
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