What is workplace discrimination?

What is workplace discrimination

While many different actions at work might feel discriminatory, workplace discrimination as it is treated under federal and state law in New Jersey and Pennsylvania only applies when people treat others unfairly or unequally based on certain protected statuses or perceived memberships in certain groups. There are many types of illegal discrimination under the law, including discrimination that is based on gender, color, race, gender, disability, religion or age.

Lawful versus unlawful discrimination

Under federal law, some types of discrimination are not federally prohibited even if they might be under state law. One example of this is discrimination based on a person’s marital status. While this is forbidden under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, there is no corresponding federal prohibition against it. Since a person’s marital status is illegal as a basis for employment discrimination, people in the state may file workplace discrimination claims under the state’s law instead of the federal law when discrimination based on their marital statuses has occurred.

What are the primary anti-discrimination laws?

Under the federal law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for enforcing most anti-discrimination laws. This body of law outlines the different groups that are protected and apply to a variety of different settings, including housing, employment, health care, education transportation, government benefits and public accommodations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are two of the biggest acts dealing with discrimination. Anti-discrimination laws have also been shaped by the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination builds on the federal laws while also protecting additional groups of people and statuses. An employment law attorney may provide guidance about which laws might be applicable.

How workplace discrimination occurs

Workplace discrimination can occur at any stage of employment, including during the hiring process, advertising for a position, wage negotiations and others. Employers are forbidden from making hiring decisions based on a person’s membership or perceived membership in a protected group. They may be required to state why they chose one applicant over another in order to prove that their motivations were not discriminatory.

Similarly, employees who are members of protected groups are protected with firing decisions. Employers are not allowed to lay people off or terminate them based on any of the protected statuses or characteristics.

The protections against workplace discrimination also extend to salaries, bonuses, promotions and disciplinary decisions. An employment law attorney can review what happened in order to determine if the employer’s motivation for his or her action was likely discriminatory in nature.

How discrimination laws apply to at-will employment

A majority of U.S. employers offer employment on an at-will basis. This means that employers are allowed to terminate any worker’s employment at any time and for any reason. At-will workers may also leave their employment without penalty at any time.

Despite the rules of at-will employment, state and federal anti-discrimination laws still apply. This means that if the reason for the termination was discriminatory, it is still illegal even if the employment was at will.

Undue hardship in disability cases

Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for their disabled employees. This may include such things as ramps or elevators for workers who are unable to walk up stairs. Employers are protected as well, however, if a requested accommodation would cause the employer an undue hardship. An accommodation may be considered to be unreasonable if it would require the employer to spend substantial funds that the employer doesn’t have.

What people can do when they believe that discrimination has occurred

When people are the victims of workplace discrimination, they should immediately report the incident. Most companies have human resources departments at which people can file their complaints. When employers receive complaints, they normally attempt to resolve them immediately.

When formal complaints made at the workplace do not work, people may then file complaints with the EEOC and the corresponding state agencies. Most of the time, employers will try to reach out-of-court settlements. An employment law attorney may work to help his or her client negotiate a settlement that is fair. If the EEOC decides to investigate, the process may take as long as three years. To learn more about your rights, contact the employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler to schedule your consultation.