What is discrimination?

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity laws define workplace discrimination as unfair treatment based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (age 40 or older), or genetic information.

Which federal laws address workplace discrimination?

Are there workplace discrimination laws at the state level?

Yes. While many states laws mirror the federal statutes, some states have additional protections. There are also state-specific laws that require anti-discrimination training. Some states equal opportunity employment laws apply to smaller businesses as compared with the federal laws. Also, many states have added or expanded pay equity laws.

  • California
    • Gender identity and marital status are protected characteristics
  • Connecticut
    • Increased employer requirements for sexual harassment training and notices
  • Oregon
    • Prohibits employers requiring discrimination and harassment nondisclosure agreements

How does discrimination manifest itself in a workplace?

Discrimination can originate with recruiters, supervisors, and rank and file employees. The EEOC calls out the following behavior:

  • Harassment by managers or co-workers based on the protected characteristics
  • Employers making job decisions about hiring, firing, promotions, training, wages and benefits based on the protected characteristics
  • Denial of a reasonable workplace change that an employee needs because of religious beliefs or disability
  • Improper questions about or disclosure of genetic information or medical information
  • Retaliation of an employee after the employee complained about discrimination or assisted in a discrimination investigation

What are the most common workplace discrimination violations?

2019 is the most recent year the EEOC has compiled data on violations. In fiscal year 2019, the EEOC received 72,675 charges of workplace discrimination. This is the breakdown on most common violations (these percentages add up to more than 100% because some cases include charges of multiple offenses):

  • Retaliation: 39,110 (53.8 percent of all charges filed)
  • Disability: 24,238 (33.4 percent)
  • Race: 23,976 (33.0 percent)
  • Sex: 23,532 (32.4 percent)
  • Age: 15,573 (21.4 percent)
  • National Origin: 7,009 (9.6 percent)
  • Color: 3,415 (4.7 percent)
  • Religion: 2,725 (3.7 percent)
  • Equal Pay Act: 1,117 (1.5 percent)
  • Genetic Information: 209 (0.3 percent)

How can a employer prevent discrimination at their organization?

The following recommendations come from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Employment Law Handbook:

  • Respect cultural and racial differences in the workplace
  • Be professional in conduct and speech
  • Refuse to initiate, participate, or condone discrimination and harassment
  • Avoid race-based or culturally offensive humor or pranks–when in doubt, leave it outside the workplace
  • Attend training on EEO principles and learn about your legal responsibilities under the anti-discrimination laws
  • Educate all employees on all forms of discrimination and the adverse effects it could have on them personally
  • Have a formalized compliant policy and create a work environment where employees feel comfortable reporting potentially discriminatory behavior
  • Seek frequent feedback from employees regarding their experiences in their jobs and ask specifically whether they have been subject to or witnessed discriminatory behavior

See also

Additional resources

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