Are You Being Discriminated Against in the Workplace?

What Is Employment Discrimination?

Employment discrimination can take many forms, but generally it occurs when an employee or job applicant is treated unfairly due to their gender, race, religion, nationality, age, disability, or family status. Anyone who falls under one of these characteristics is considered to be a part of a ‘protected class’ by law. If someone is considered a member of this protected class, then an employer may not discriminate in order to make one of the following actions:

-Refusal to hire;
-Denial of training;
-Failure to promote;
-Lesser pay for equal jobs;
-Or Discipline.


What Are the Different Types Of Discrimination?

*Keep in mind that the law does not prohibit simple teasing, but considers this teasing illegal if it there is persistence in the remarks, which results in a hostile or offensive work environment for the employee.

-Age Discrimination:
The ADEA only forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older – though some states do have laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination.

-Disability Discrimination:
The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or a job applicant with a disability – unless doing so would cause the employer undue hardship (i.e. it would be extremely difficult or costly). Disabilities can include a history of a disability (i.e. cancer that’s in remission), mental or physical impairment that is not transitory or minor (a chronic disability).

-Equal Pay Discrimination:
The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women in the same work environment working similar jobs be given equal pay for equal work. The jobs do not have to be identical; they just must be substantially equal, with the job content and not the title determining the equality. All forms of pay are included in this law, including: salary, overtime, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing, life insurance, vacation pay, gasoline allowances, hotel accommodations, travel expense reimbursements, and benefits. Employers are not allowed to reduce the wages of either sex to equalize pay.

-Genetic Information Discrimination:
Genetic information includes any and all information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of their family members (meaning that family medical history is included). This information can be gathered as part of the FMLA leave certification process, voluntarily for the use of wellness programs, through public documents (i.e. newspaper articles), through DNA testing for specific jobs (i.e. law enforcement), and genetic monitoring programs that monitor toxic substances in the workplace. Though the information can be gathered in these cases, these tests cannot be used as a basis for negative employment.

-National Origin Discrimination:
The law forbids discrimination against an employee based on their national origin. This includes and derogatory remarks about their place of origin, accent, or ethnicity.

-Pregnancy Discrimination:
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) forbids any negative employment due to a pregnancy. If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to her pregnancy, the employee must treat her the same way as they treat any other temporarily disabled employee. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a new parent (including foster and adoptive parents) may be eligible for 12 weeks of leave to take care of the new child (unpaid or paid depending on the situation). To be eligible for the FMLA leave, the employee must have worked for the employer for 12 months prior to taking the leave.

-Race/Color Discrimination:
The law prohibits the harassment of a person due to that person’s color or race. This can include: racial slurs, derogatory remarks about the person’s race, or the display of racially offensive symbols.

-Religious Discrimination:
It is illegal to harass someone due to his or her religious orientation. This can include any offensive remarks about a person’s belief or practices. Title VII also prohibits job segregation based on religion, such as giving an employee a non-customer contact position due to feared customer preference.

Retaliation is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination. Essentially, retaliation involves an employer taking action to ‘retaliate’ against applicants or employees due to their filing a discrimination complaint, or participating in an employment discrimination proceeding.

-Sex Discrimination:
Sex discrimination involves treating someone in the workplace unfavorably because of that person’s sex. This includes and is not limited to: gender identity (including transgender status), and sexual orientation. Sex discrimination harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and a slew of other verbal or physical harassment that’s sexual by nature. These cases do not have to be sexual by nature, and can merely have to do with the person’s sex (i.e. a male co-worker making prejudiced comments about women).


I Think I’m Being Discriminated Against – What Should I Do?

If you have suspicion that you may be on the receiving end of discrimination, then the first thing you should do is to make your employer aware of the discrimination. This gives your employer the opportunity to take proper action to prevent the discrimination from continuing (which if the employer can prove that they were taking action to prevent discrimination in a court of law, they will not be held liable for the discrimination).*

The next thing you should do is to gather as much evidence to support your case. This means that any time that there is a situation where you think you may be discriminated against, save all correspondences (emails, voicemails, texts, basically anything tangible), take notes of specific things being said if there’s no tangible evidence (i.e. write down the date and time as well as all things said, verbatim), and start filing formal complaints with your employer every time that discrimination occurs. The more evidence that you can collect surrounding this; the better your chances are at getting your ideal verdict.

Once you’ve collected a bunch of evidence to support your case, and the discrimination hasn’t been stopped, then it’s time to consider contacting the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC holds the responsibility of overseeing compliance of most federal anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws and have the capabilities to bring a federal case against your employer if they found that unlawful discrimination has been taking place. You can check out the steps involved with filing a formal complaint here.

Once you’ve filed a formal complaint, you may want to consider hiring an attorney to represent you in the discrimination case should one be declared. An attorney representing you may help to remove the emotional biases that are inherently created by the discrimination.

*Pro tip: make sure that you review your company’s anti-discrimination policy and obtain a copy if there are any examples of policy breach.


If you found this article helpful you may want to read our entire collection on Labor Laws

Updated: October 18th, 2016

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Revised: Feb. 11, 2016, 8:43 p.m.
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