Workplace Discrimination

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While workplace discrimination is frowned upon and illegal, it is still a sad reality of today’s work environment. The U.S. has put into place numerous federal and state laws to protect employees from job discrimination in several areas including hiring, recruitment, firing, training, promotion, pay, and job assignment. Employers may discriminate because they hold preconceived notions or prejudices against certain people, but in many cases discrimination can be the result of ignorance. In either case, if the discrimination is occurring on the basis of a protected class, it is illegal. That means that just because a supervisor or employer didn’t know that something was illegal, that is still no excuse in the eyes of the law. Many employees are confused about what is and is not legal and what does and does not constitute job discrimination. This is not surprising as employment laws can vary from state to state and even state to a federal level and can be quite complicated.

Protected Classes

Workplace Discrimination

Protected classes are categories of people who it is illegal to discriminate against. That means that if an employer is discriminating against an employee (or potential employee) on the basis of one these classes, then it is illegal. To be clear, it is legal to discriminate against people who are not covered by a legally defined protected class. Let’s see an example. Race is a protected class. That means that if an employer is discriminating against an employee or candidate because they are black or Hispanic, that is illegal and that person would be able to take action against the employer. But if an employer is discriminating against an employee at work because of that employee’s attitude at work, that is not inherently illegal. There are both Federal and State protected classes. Some of the federal protected classes include: sex (or gender), age, disability, color and race, sexual orientation, veteran, religion, family status, and sexual orientation. There are specific conditions for some of these protected classes, so it is best to consult with an attorney if you have questions.

Workplace Discrimination Laws in California

California, like many states, has its own set of discrimination laws. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is a department charged with enforcing California’s discrimination laws meant to protect Californians both at work and with their housing and public accommodations. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the California statute that codifies what is and is not legal in the State of California as it pertains to discrimination and harassment in either housing or employment. FEHA prohibits employment discrimination or harassment on the basis of any of the following protected categories: disability (including pregnancy), gender or sex, national origin or race, age, religion, whistle blowing. We take for granted these days that an employer cannot discriminate us because of where we born or what religion we practice, but this was not always the case. Sadly the U.S. has a long history of discriminating against immigrant groups and minorities. But with the passage of these laws, we are creating an equitable and fair environment that embraces the differences of people instead of discriminating against them. Our diversity is one of the things that make America great, and by actively preventing discrimination and harassment, we not only do what is morally correct, we also build a better country.

Federal Workplace Discrimination Laws

In addition to State laws, the U.S. has enacted many federal laws which prohibit job discrimination. These are known as Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Laws (EEO) and include laws from 1963 all the way up to newly enacted laws in 2008. Some of these laws include The Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 1991, just to name a few.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency which is there to both enforce and oversee all of these laws protecting workers from job discrimination. The EEOC is headquartered in Washington D.C., but also has over fifty field offices across the nation. While it is comforting to know that we have federal and state agencies looking out for our welfare, it is up to employees to recognize when they are being discriminated against and to report these acts to superiors. If you find that despite going through your company’s process, you are still the victim of discrimination or harassment, then you may need to consult with a lawyer to get a better understanding of the law. These laws are constantly evolving and changing, and so it is imperative to consult with a knowledgeable attorney in your state or jurisdiction. Don’t assume that you can surf the Internet and determine whether or not you have a case as these laws are complicated.