Most people think about the abusive treatment of employees at work when they consider the meaning of illegal discrimination. While the discriminatory treatment of members of protected classes in the workplace is both personal and noticeable, workplace discrimination can also be institutionalized and be exercised through the company’s policies. Company policies that have a disparate impact on members of a protected class can be illegal discrimination. Here are some examples of company policies that might be discriminatory from the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler.
1. Discriminatory Dress Code and Grooming Policies
Most companies have dress codes and grooming standards. In general, companies are legally permitted to establish and enforce dress codes and grooming standards for their employees. However, there are certain situations in which these types of policies might be unlawful.
For example, if a company’s dress code bans wearing headscarves, yarmulkes, or other similar religious garments at work, the policy might be considered to discriminate against people based on their religious beliefs. Similarly, dress code policies and grooming standards that prohibit beards, afros, braids, or dreadlocks might be discriminatory against employees of specific races or religions. Dress code and grooming standard policies might discriminate against employees based on their gender identities or genders if they force gender non-conforming or transgender employees to dress and groom themselves in a contradictory way to their gender expressions or identities.
2. Forced Retirements
While some professions such as federal law enforcement agencies have mandatory retirement ages, most do not. In jobs without this type of legal requirement, forcing employees to retire because they have reached a certain age is illegal. While mandatory policies for retirement were common in the past, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act largely prohibits them. This law protects employees ages 40 and older against discrimination based on their age. This means that your employer cannot force you to resign or fire you just because you have turned age 65, for example.
There are several exceptions to this rule, including federal law enforcement officers, other public safety officers, firefighters, executives, or those in high positions who make policies and who will receive employer-provided retirement benefits of at least $44,000 per year, and positions for which age is a bona fide occupational qualification. Employers are allowed to set age limits as a bona fide occupational qualification when most people older than the established age limit would not be able to perform the job or when testing individual employees to see if they could still perform the job would be impractical or impossible.
3. Employees Compelled to Participate in Religious Observances and Holidays
Some employers view themselves as having a basis in religious faith even though the purpose of their business is not religious. For example, deeply religious restaurant owners might try to run their restaurant according to specific religious principles even though the purpose of their company is to make and sell meals to diners.
If the religious owners of a business create a policy compelling their employees to participate in religious observances and holidays or to attend a specific church, the policies are likely discriminatory since they impose the religious beliefs of the owners on their employees. For example, if all of the employees of the restaurant are asked to bow their heads in prayer before the meal service each night, this policy would likely be unlawfully discriminatory on the basis of religion. Similarly, employers that discriminate against employees based on their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, or disability status and use their religious beliefs as a cover might also be liable in a discrimination claim filed by the affected employee or employees.
4. Policies That Pregnant Workers Will Be Terminated
Women who became pregnant were allowed to be terminated from their jobs for decades. However, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 ordered an end to this practice and provided protection to employees who faced discrimination based on their pregnancies or desire to grow their families.
Any policy that allows pregnant workers to be terminated based on their pregnancies or desire to have children is illegal. Instead, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who are pregnant so that they can continue performing the essential tasks of their jobs. Despite this protection, employers continue to discriminate against women who are pregnant, and some employers also ask women if they intend to have children for the purpose of discriminating against them. If your employer has this type of policy in place or has threatened to fire you because of your pregnancy or plan to have children, you should immediately talk to an attorney at Swartz Swidler.
5. Policies of Only Hiring U.S. Citizens
It is illegal to discriminate against applicants and employees based on their citizenship status or national origin. Employers cannot make adverse employment decisions based on the citizenship status or national origin of applicants or employees. This means that as long as an applicant is a lawful permanent resident or is otherwise legally permitted to work in the U.S., an employer cannot refuse to hire him or her simply based on the fact that he or she is not a U.S. citizen. Employers are not allowed to have policies that specify they only hire U.S. citizens unless it is required by state or federal law. Similarly, employers cannot terminate employees or deny employment to applicants based on their real or perceived national origins. For example, an employer cannot have a policy against hiring anyone who is Hispanic.
Get Help From an Experienced Employment Discrimination Attorney
If you believe that your employer has unlawfully discriminated or terminated you based on your protected characteristics, you might be entitled to recover monetary damages. This is true even if the discrimination you experienced was contained within the company’s policies and resulted in your disparate treatment. To learn more about your rights and the legal remedies that might be available, you should consult with an experienced discrimination attorney. Contact Swartz Swidler today at (856) 685-7420 for a free case evaluation.