Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dealing with Employment Discrimination

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Employment discrimination (or workplace discrimination) is discrimination in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, and compensation. It includes various types of harassment.

Many jurisdictions prohibit some types of employment discrimination, often by forbidding discrimination based on certain traits ("protected categories"). In other cases, the law may require discrimination against certain groups.

In places where it is illegal, discrimination often takes subtler forms, such as wage discrimination and requirements with disparate impact on certain groups. Although illegal, employees sometimes suffer retaliation for opposing workplace discrimination or for reporting violations to the authorities. Federal law prohibits U.S. employers to write bad job references, or otherwise retaliate against former employees as a punishment for filing job discrimination complaints.

Like most discrimination, employment discrimination may occur intentionally or unintentionally, because of prejudice or ignorance.

Federal law governing employment discrimination has developed over time. The Equal Pay Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1963. The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers and unions from paying different wages based on sex. It does not prohibit other discriminatory practices in hiring. It provides that where workers perform equal work in jobs requiring "equal skill, effort, and responsibility and performed under similar working conditions," they should be provided equal pay.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in many more aspects of the employment relationship. It applies to most employers engaged in interstate commerce with more than 15 employees, labor organizations, and employment agencies. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based upon protected characteristics regarding terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII in 1978, specifying that unlawful sex discrimination includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), enacted in 1968 and amended in 1978 and 1986, prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of age. The prohibited practices are nearly identical to those outlined in Title VII, except that the ADEA protects workers in firms with 20 or more workers rather than 15 or more.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability by the federal government, federal contractors with contracts of more than $10,000, and programs receiving federal financial assistance.

The Black Lung Benefits Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination by mine operators against miners who suffer from "black lung disease" (pneumoconiosis).

The Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of bankruptcy or bad debts.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 prohibits employers with more than three employees from discriminating against anyone (except an unauthorized immigrant) on the basis of national origin or citizenship status.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was enacted to eliminate discriminatory barriers against qualified individuals with disabilities, individuals with a record of a disability, or individuals who are regarded as having a disability. It prohibits discrimination based on a physical or mental handicap and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled workers.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 bars employers from using individuals' genetic information when making hiring, firing, job placement, or promotion decisions.

The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Now that you know the laws involved, learn about those who enforce them and steps you can take if you find yourself a victim of employment discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency charged with protecting workers from discrimination. Questions you may have:

Question: What is the role of the EEOC?

Answer: The agency is charged with enforcing Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments, from discriminating against employees based on their race, sex, color, national origin or religion.

EEOC also enforces three other federal laws. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits employers from discriminating against workers 40 years of age or older. The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which requires workers who are performing the same or similar duties to be paid equally, without regard to the sex of the worker, and the more recent federal law that was passed is called the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1990 and prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual based on disability.

Q: If workers believe their employers have violated these laws, what should they do?

A: People who believe they have been subjected to discrimination under these laws can call, write or visit their local EEOC office to seek more information or to file a complaint. Information on the agency can be found at eeoc.gov or (800) 669-4000.

Q: What is the process for filing a complaint?

A: A person who comes into an EEOC office is interviewed by an investigator, who accepts the information and formalizes the complaint. Once EEOC have a formal complaint, they notify the employer of the complaint and invite their response.

Q: Does that begin the investigative process?

A: Before an investigation begins, EEOC will more than likely attempt to resolve the complaint through mediation. This service is free to both the worker and the employer. Information from the mediation is confidential and no information given during the mediation is passed on to EEOC investigative staff if the mediation is unsuccessful.

Q: What are the most common complaints filed?

A: Three types of complaints historically make up for most of the volume. One type of complaint is allegations of race discrimination. A second is cases alleging sex discrimination, and a lot of those include sexual harassment. The third category is cases alleging retaliation.

Q: How is unwelcome sexual conduct defined?

A: Unwelcome sexual conduct includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, which unreasonably interferes with the person's ability to work or which creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. A single request by a supervisor for a date may not constitute sexual harassment; repeated requests could. A comment about a female's body parts or clothing, if it's sexual in nature and if it is repeated, could constitute sexual harassment as well. The first instance of touching a woman in a private place on her body is sexual harassment if the woman is trying to avoid it and has otherwise expressed that it's unwelcome.

Q: What can employers do to keep sexual harassment and other unlawful practices out of the workplace?

A: If an employer is serious about keeping sexual harassment out of the workplace, having a policy and living by the policy is the right thing to do. The most crucial aspect of a policy is its widespread dissemination, and training.

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