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The Right to a Discrimination-Free Workplace

While it can be distressing to be the victim of discrimination in the workplace, it is important that you speak up and know your rights.

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In the U.S., it is illegal to discriminate against an applicant or employee, whether it be intentionally done or via a disparate impact. Most businesses operating with 15 or more employees are covered by federal laws pertaining to acts of discrimination, as are most employment agencies and labor unions.

What is discrimination?

Employment discrimination occurs when an employer actively treats an employee or applicant less favorably based on their:

  • Color.
  • Age (40 or older).
  • Race.
  • Gender or gender identity.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Genetic information.
  • Religion.
  • National origin.
  • Protected veteran status.
  • Disability.

It can also occur when an employer terminates, disciplines, or otherwise takes unfavorable action against an applicant or employee for disclosing, discussing, or requesting information regarding payment. Employment discrimination can be related to the treatment of an individual or a group.

Know your rights

You have the right to work in a discrimination-free environment. You cannot legally be denied employment, demoted, harassed, paid less, terminated, or treated less favorably because of any of the points listed above. 

You also have the right to disclose, discuss or make inquiries regarding your pay, your co-worker’s pay, and the pay offered to new job applicants.

Protection against harassment

You are protected against harassment under the included prohibitions on anti-discrimination laws. Harassment can be described as any unwelcome conduct that is based upon one or more of the above-listed protected characteristics. Under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, unwelcome conduct is any conduct that a ‘reasonable person’ would consider to be hostile, intimidating, or abusive.

It is illegal for an employer to harass an applicant or employee based upon any of these protections or to actively retaliate against an employee who complains about being discriminated against, files a charge of discrimination, or otherwise participants in a lawsuit or investigation regarding employment discrimination.

Until fairly recently, discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation was determined by state law, resulting in inconsistent standards across the nation. However, in June of 2020, the US Supreme Court passed a law to include any LGBTQ+ employees in the protection from workplace discrimination as set out by Title VII.

Now, employees throughout America are protected from such discrimination. Furthermore, The Employment Opportunities Commission has recently rescinded its long-held position that mandatory arbitration agreements (covering employment discrimination claims) undermine that US anti-discrimination laws be enforced.

Your right to be provided with reasonable accommodations

It is illegal for an employer to fail to take all reasonable accommodations for any known mental or physical limitations of an applicant or employee who is otherwise qualified to undertake their employment duties. 

The only provisions that protect an employer from making such accommodations are in the case that they can demonstrate that doing so would impose an undue hardship upon the operation of their business. 

Additionally, employers are obligated to accommodate any reasonable requests made by the employee regarding modifications of uniform and dress policies warranted on the grounds of sincerely-held religious beliefs – again, unless undue hardship can be demonstrated.

With regards to COVID-19, should an employee give notice that they are unable to attend work due to falling into a vulnerable category, their employer may be legally obligated to provide such reasonable accommodations. It is particularly important that such accommodations be upheld in the event that the request is due to pregnancy or other medical conditions. 

Employers can then determine whether such employees are able to continue working remotely or whether any alternative accommodations are available. Under various laws, such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), these employees may be entitled to paid sick leave. It is important to note that an employer is not entitled to enforce that an employee stays home on account of them falling into any of the vulnerable population categories.

Remedying discrimination

If you believe that you have been unfairly discriminated against, you may seek redress via various local, state, and federal administrative agencies, as well as the state and US federal courts, if necessary.

Should a court find that an employee has had their employment terminated on the grounds of unlawful discrimination, Marc J Shuman of Shuman Legal explains that they “may be entitled to monetary damages, attorney fees, and reinstatement (although this is rarely granted).”

Marc continues, “Monetary damages can include the compensation of any benefits and wages lost as a result of the unlawful termination. In some cases, damages are also sought for any physical or emotional distress suffered by the employee as a result of the discrimination.”

In any cases that involve egregious law violations, the employer in question may be liable for punitive damages. Federal law does impose caps on punitive and compensatory damages, but many states do not.

You are entitled to work in an environment that is free of discrimination and harassment. You are also protected under federal and state laws to assert and file discrimination claims without retaliative actions being taken against you.

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Written by Luke Fitzpatrick

Luke Fitzpatrick is an academic speaker at Sydney University. He enjoys writing about tech, productivity, lifestyle, and is a contributor to Forbes.

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