10 Questions About Workplace Discrimination

Workplace discrimination usually refers to unfair treatment of employees that is illegal under Federal and state laws. Here are 10 common questions employers often have about workplace discrimination and the answers. 

Get the facts about workplace discrimination

Learn what constitutes workplace discrimination.

1. What workplace discrimination is specifically outlawed?

A variety of mostly federal laws makes it generally illegal to discriminate against employees based on race, color, gender, national origin, religion, disability, citizenship, age, and pregnancy.


2. Do workplace discrimination laws apply to small businesses?

If you have as few as three employees, most anti-discrimination laws don’t apply to you. The exception is the Equal Pay Act, which prevents disparity in pay among male and female employees performing the same or similar jobs.


However, if you have up to 15 employees, some anti-discrimination laws apply to you. Some, such as the Civil Rights Act, do not. However, sexual harassment, which is covered under this law, still applies even if just one employee violates the law. 


3. What should I do about an employee who complains about discrimination?


Take complaints about discrimination seriously, even if you personally consider the complaint trivial or ridiculous. You want to avoid an EEOC complaint or a lawsuit. Thoroughly investigate each complaint. If there is any basis for the allegation, identify a corrective action and put it in place as quickly as possible.


4. Can I fire or reprimand an employee who constantly complains about discrimination?


No. Almost all anti-discrimination laws prevent retaliation. If you fire an employee for complaining, you should expect a lawsuit. You don’t even have to fire someone who complains to break the law: other forms of retaliation, such as a reprimand or refusal to promote may be grounds to file a lawsuit for retaliation. Your best protection is to investigate each and every complaint as discussed above.


5.What is sexual harassment?


Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advances or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive workplace. The standard for determining harassment is if a reasonable person should have to endure the conduct in question. 


6. What is age discrimination?

Age discrimination is short-sighted and wrong at all levels.

You cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants based on their age.

Age discrimination occurs when an employer makes an employment decision based on an employee’s age or on stereotypes about age or youth. Even if you honestly believe that younger, fresh-faced salespeople will sell more products, hiring or firing based on that belief is age discrimination if you have 20 or more employees, according to the EEOC.


7. Can I discriminate based on sexual orientation or identity?

No. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal workplace anti-discrimination laws, says discrimination against a person because of his or her sexual orientation is illegal under the Civil Rights Act. In addition, discrimination against transgendered people is also prohibited.


8. Can I require that work be done in English?

It depends on the purpose and scope of the rule. An employer may be able to prohibit on-duty employees from speaking any language other than English if it can show that the rule is necessary for business reasons. If your company has an English-only rule, you must tell employees when they must speak English (for example, whenever customers are present) and the consequences of breaking the rule.


9. Do I have to grant employees time off for religious reasons?

It depends on how easy or difficult it would be for you to do so. You are legally required to work with your employees to make it possible for them to practice their religion. This might include not scheduling an employee to work on an important religious holiday. However, you are not required to offer this accommodation if it would cause a hardship on your business or other workers.


10. Do I have to accommodate a disabled employee?

Yes, but only to a reasonable amount, and not everything that may be asked of you. This means you must honestly work with a disabled employee to find a  reasonable solution to a barrier. An example is installing a TTY phone for a deaf employee or using speech-activated software for a visually impaired employee.

If you are facing possible discrimination questions, contact our office today for a consultation.