What is Considered Discrimination at Work?

Workplace discrimination occurs when a person receives unfavorable treatment based on his/her gender, age, disability, religion, race, sexual orientation, pregnancy status or national origin.  Discrimination may affect hiring, firing, job assignments, salary, benefits, training, promotions and/or layoffs.

No matter how large or small an employer is, he must know exactly what workplace discrimination is and how to prevent it.  Not doing so can lead to serious consequences.

Who Enforces Workplace Discrimination Laws?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful to discriminate in the workplace.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces this law by investigating and attempting to settle claims of discrimination.

In general, federal contractors and subcontractors must take affirmative action to ensure equal access to employment without considering race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  Employers must not discriminate in any phase of employment, including hiring, recruiting, compensation, benefits, termination, layoffs or promotions.

Specific Types of Discrimination

The EEOC recognizes several separate types of workplace discrimination.

  • Age – Age discrimination occurs when an applicant or employee is treated less favorably because of his or her age.  The Age Discrimination in Employment Act(ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older.  It does not protect employees who are under the age of 40.
  • Sex – Sex discrimination happens when an applicant or employee is treated unfavorably because of his or her sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, including transgender status.
  • Disability – Disability discrimination occurs when an employer who is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) treats an applicant or employee unfavorably because he or she has a physical or mental disability.
  • Race/Color – Race discrimination happens when an applicant or employee is treated unfavorably because he or she is of a certain race or because of his or her skin color.
  • Religion – Religious discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs.
  • Genetic Information – Genetic information discrimination occurs when an applicant or employee is treated less favorably because of his or her genetic information, including information about that person’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of that person’s family members.
  • National Origin – National origin discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee unfavorably because he or she is from a specific country or area of the world or because of his or her ethnicity or accent or because the individual appears to be of a certain ethnic background.
  • Pregnancy – Pregnancy discrimination happens when a female applicant or employee is treated unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Equal Pay – The Equal Pay Act requires that employers pay employees equal pay for equal jobs, despite a person’s gender, age, race, religion, national origin or disability.
  • Harassment – Harassment involves subjecting an applicant or employee to unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.  The offensive conduct becomes unlawful when it is a condition of continued employment or is severe enough to create a hostile work environment.
  • Sexual Harassment – Sexual harassment occurs when an applicant or employee is subjected to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other sexual verbal or physical harassment.

Examples of Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms.  A few of these include:

  • An employer suggesting what kind of candidates he prefers when advertising a job
  • An employer denying specific employees certain benefits
  • An employer paying equally-qualified male and female employees different compensation even though they hold the same position
  • An employer preventing certain employees from using company facilities
  • An employer unfairly demoting an employee

Unfortunately, workplace discrimination is more common than many people realize. If you think you have been a victim of discrimination at your place of employment or during your employment search, it is important to know your rights. Contact us today to see how we can help.  Our team is standing by and looks forward to working with you.


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