Guide To Employee Discrimination

You Don’t Have to Tolerate Discrimination in the Workplace

Fair treatment for all individuals has been a long-fought battle throughout history. Americans have stood up against discrimination in all forms for the basic right of fair treatment no matter how a person may look, act or love. Many laws have been passed against discrimination, and our country has come a long way in the past 100 years.

Despite these leaps forward, discrimination is still an issue.

Discrimination in the workplace remains something many Americans face daily. While there are discrimination laws in place to protect workers against workplace harassment and workplace discrimination, individuals may not be aware of their rights. Plus, these laws won’t stop an offender in most cases.

Even if you are aware of your rights, dealing with discrimination at work can be tricky since laws vary by state and you may be afraid that by speaking up, you could put your job in jeopardy.

Work to Make Yourself Aware of Workplace Discrimination

A good first step in protecting yourself against job discrimination is to be aware of the laws and your rights as an employee. You can follow these two key steps:

  1. Stay educated and informed so you know how to recognize discrimination immediately before it becomes more damaging.
  2. Keep your eyes open, and if you feel like you are in a hostile work environment, know when to seek help.

Since knowing the laws alone won’t completely protect you from workplace discrimination, you also need to know when to contact a lawyer to help you with your situation. An experienced employment lawyer will have the background and knowledge to help determine if you are being discriminated against and the next steps you should take.

This guide was written with you in mind so you can easily inform yourself of the current discrimination laws and learn what your rights are. You will also learn about:

  • The different types of discrimination at work
  • What each type of discrimination looks like
  • How to seek legal guidance for your situation

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You do not have to tolerate discrimination in the workplace due to age, gender, disability, nationality, religion or sexual orientation. Every employee deserves to be able to go to work and feel safe in addition to being treated like everyone else in the job search process. No one, no matter their position, has a right to treat you negatively or cause you harm.

How to Fight Back Against Job Discrimination

When you finish our guide, we hope that you will be able to recognize if you’re being discriminated against at work and have the confidence to reach out for help if you need it.

If you think you’ve experienced discrimination, report the situation to the necessary administration and authority figures so they can take action against the offender. You may need to contact an experienced employment lawyer to advise you on your legal rights and options to file a discrimination case.

Read on below or download the PDF version of this guide to read at your convenience. If you have questions concerning the content in this guide and you want to speak with a Pennsylvania attorney, please contact us or call (855) 716-2367 for help.

Chapter 1: Discrimination Is Against the Law

You do not have to tolerate discrimination at work. Unfortunately, discrimination comes in many forms, some more obvious and others more subtle. Either way, if you deal with any type of discrimination, you should contact your company’s HR department or a local attorney.

Fortunately, there are many laws that protect employees at work. Some of the most relevant laws are covered in the following paragraphs and may provide you protection when you need it the most.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights act of 1964 contains a section called Title VII. It is often thought of as a protection against racial discrimination, but it prohibits all aspects of discrimination. Title VII made it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on sex, color, national origin, race and religion. In general, Title VII is applicable to employers who have at least 15 employees at the local, state or federal level.

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Title VII protects any individual whose employer meets the above criteria. The protections cover every aspect from the recruiting process before you have the job to the work environment once you are hired. Title VII makes it illegal for anyone to harass you or create a hostile environment.

It protects you against discrimination in the form of different patterns of compensation, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. Title VII also makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate if you file an EEOC complaint against them.

In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) is applicable to employers who have at least four employees, and provides many of the same protections as Title VII, as well as many of the federal statutes referenced below.

Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act became a law in 1963 and was created to require paying men and women the same compensation for the same work in the same workplace. The Equal Pay Act was a big step against gender discrimination, but there are still cases when men make more than women for the same work.

The act notes a number of different factors to determine if a job is the same or substantially equal, including:

  • Skill
  • Effort
  • Responsibility
  • Working conditions

Job titles don’t have to be identical for the jobs to be considered the same. It is illegal for employers to pay different wages to men and women who are performing the same job on basis of skill, responsibility and effort under working conditions that are similar and within the same company, even if they do not share the same title.

Keep in mind that differences in pay are allowed if the there are grounds not based on gender. These may include a variety of factors, such as production levels, quality of work, merit or seniority.

It’s important to note that if unequal pay does occur and is reported, the employer can’t simply lower one of the employee’s wages to match the other. Instead, the employee who is making less must get a raise to make the same as the other employee.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was added to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect one aspect of sexuality discrimination. It states women can’t be discriminated against based on pregnancy or childbirth. This law applies to:

  • Hiring pregnant women
  • Working conditions
  • Maternity and pregnancy leave
  • Benefits

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A job applicant can’t be denied work just because she is pregnant. As long as she can perform the required duties, she should be treated like any other applicant. A pregnant woman can’t be forced to take maternity leave, and a company cannot specify a certain amount of required maternity leave the employee must take before coming back to work.

A pregnant employee must be offered the same insurance benefits as any other employee. If she is unable to perform her job because of her pregnancy, she must be treated as an employee with a temporary disability and qualifies for reasonable accommodations from the employer so she is able to continue working.

An employee who is on maternity leave can’t be fired just because she’s not at work. Additionally, an employer can’t fire an employee who just had a baby just because the company is concerned about her ability to focus on the job with no proof that her work has been affected after she returned to work.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA, protects job seekers and employees who are 40 years of age or older from discrimination due to age. These discrimination laws apply to:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Promoting
  • Compensating
  • Specifying the terms and conditions of employment

The ADEA doesn’t protect younger employees under age 40 from age discrimination based on their age, but there may be protections at the state level depending on where you live.

Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was made into a law in 1990. Title I of the act concerns employment and disability discrimination in the workplace. The ADA protects people with disabilities so they have the same opportunities and benefits as individuals without disabilities. It also states that employers have to provide reasonable accommodations to employees or applicants who would otherwise be able to do the job if it wasn’t for their disability.

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Employers with 15 or more employees must comply with the ADA, and Title I of the act goes into detail about what is considered a disability and what reasonable accommodations are for an employee. The individual or their family can discuss the disability and the needed accommodations with the employer.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces all of the above federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against an applicant or an employee. The majority of employers who have at least 15 employees are responsible for complying with discrimination laws.

The EEOC investigates charges of discrimination and then rules on the findings. The EEOC usually tries to settle the issue but will file a lawsuit against the employer when necessary. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also works to prevent discrimination by educating employers and employees and providing outreach and assistance when necessary.

If an employee feels they’ve been discriminated against, they may decide to file an EEOC complaint form, which will require the EEOC to look into the case and make a decision based on what they find. You don’t have to hire a lawyer to file an EEOC claim, but your claim may be more successful and easier to deal with if you have legal protection and knowledge on your side.

Keep in Mind: There Are Exceptions Regarding Employment Discrimination

There are some exceptions to the laws stated above. These exceptions state that in some cases, it is legal to discriminate against employees or applicants on the basis of sex, religion or national origin.

Once of these is the bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). The BFOQ says it’s okay to ignore age discrimination laws if the qualifications of the job are necessary to the normal operations of the business. For example:

  • Applicants over 50 may not be hired as police officers because of the demanding physical requirements for officers
  • An employee over age 60 who is in a top executive position requiring stressful and important decision making may be required to retire after a certain age under the BFOQ.

There are also certain religious exemptions as well. The law recognizes that in some cases, religion plays a critical part in employment and job-related decisions, and in these cases, employers can discriminate based on religion, gender identity or even sexual orientation. Houses of worship and religious schools have complete exemption, while other religious organizations may have the ability to apply certain religious requirements to their employees.


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