Under the federal anti-discrimination laws, it is illegal for employers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and throughout the U.S. to have employment policies that discriminate against applicants or employees based on their color, race, religion, national origin, sex, and other protected statuses unless they are necessary for business reasons. The employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler can help you understand the different types of employment policies that are prohibited under the law.
Prohibited Policies Affecting the Terms and Conditions of Employment
Employers cannot implement policies to make employment decisions based on an applicant’s or employee’s protected status, including sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, pregnancy, national origin, disability, religion, genetic information, color, age if over 40, or race. Employers cannot discriminate against applicants or employees when making employment decisions based on these protected characteristics.
Prohibited Policies for Employee Discipline
Employers cannot make decisions to terminate employees, discipline them, or lay them off based on their protected characteristics. When two or more employees violate the same company policy in similar ways, an employer is not allowed to use different forms of discipline based on one of the employee’s protected characteristics. Similarly, employees cannot choose employees for layoffs or termination based on their protected statuses. This sometimes occurs during layoffs when employers disproportionately select members of a protected group to lay off, such as people who are 40 or older or who are members of a minority group.
Prohibited Policies About Benefits and Pay
Employers are also prohibited from discriminating against employees in terms of benefits and pay based on their protected characteristics. This includes having discriminatory policies about all types of compensation, including salaries, hourly wages, commissions, bonuses, and employer-provided benefits such as insurance, vacation days, sick leave, or retirement benefits. An example of a discriminatory policy in this category might include one in which female employees are provided with fewer health insurance options than males based on their gender.
Prohibited Policies for Promotions and Job Assignments
Employers cannot base their decisions about job assignments or promotions on the protected characteristics of their employees. It is illegal to give preferences to employees of a specific religion when deciding who to promote or how to segregate them based on their religious beliefs.
It is also illegal for employers to create apprenticeship or training programs that discriminate against employees based on the protected characteristics of the applicants or employees. However, employers might be allowed to set age limits for apprenticeship programs if they are directly related to the job.
Prohibited Policies About Dress Codes
Employers are generally allowed to have dress codes that apply to all employees within specific job categories. However, some potential exceptions exist. For example, employers can require all employees to comply with a dress code even if it conflicts with some employees’ ethnic practices, but a dress code policy cannot treat certain employees less favorably based on their national origin. If an employer prohibits employees from wearing brightly colored African dresses but allows other employees to wear whatever they want, it would be unlawful.
Similarly, employers cannot discriminate in their dress code based on their employees’ religion. If an employer bans yarmulkes but allows other employees to wear hats or turbans at work, the dress code would be unlawfully discriminatory based on religion. Religious employees who request religious accommodations to the dress code should be accommodated unless doing so would cause undue financial hardship.
Prohibited Policies About Providing References
Employers cannot provide negative or false employment references based on the protected characteristics of their former employees. This prohibition also includes refusing to give a reference for a previous employee based on his or her protected status.
Prohibited Policies About Harassment
Employers may not have policies or practices that allow employees to be harassed based on their protected statuses. They also cannot harass employees because they filed internal complaints about discrimination, filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or participated in a discrimination lawsuit or investigation.
Harassment can take many forms, including physical conduct, oral statements, obscene jokes, derogatory comments, pornographic displays, racial slurs, graffiti, and more. Harassment based on someone’s protected characteristics at work is unlawful if it is so pervasive or severe that it causes a hostile work environment to be created. Harassers can include supervisors, co-workers, customers, clients, or contractors. Employers must address harassment in the workplace whenever an internal complaint is filed to end it.
Speak to the Attorneys at Swartz Swidler
If your employer has illegally discriminatory policies or employment practices in place, you should consult an employment lawyer at Swartz Swidler to learn about your rights. Contact us today for a free consultation at (856) 685-7420.