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Understanding Your Equal Employment Opportunity Obligations

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 3/18/2015
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The most recent enforcement and litigation data released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) confirm that employment-related liabilities remain one of the most significant risks facing employers. Controlling these risks requires an understanding of what employers can and cannot do under the various equal employment opportunity laws enforced by the EEOC, including:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII)
  • the Pregnancy Discrimination Act
  • the Equal Pay Act (EPA)
  • the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
  • the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

These laws generally make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of a person’s protected characteristic, such as an employee’s or applicant’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Unlawful discrimination is prohibited in every aspect of employment, from hiring, firing, promotions and pay, to granting breaks, approving leave, assigning work stations, or setting any other term or condition of employment, however small.

Job Advertisements: Ads cannot show a preference for or discourage someone from applying on the basis of a protected characteristic (race, religion, sex, age, disability, etc.). For example, a help-wanted ad that seeks "females" or "recent college graduates" may discourage men and people over 40 from applying and may violate the law.

Pay & Benefits: It is generally illegal to discriminate in the payment of wages or benefits on the basis of a protected characteristic.

Assignments & Promotions: Employers cannot consider a protected characteristic when making decisions about job assignments and promotions. Employers may not base these decisions on stereotypes and assumptions about a person due to a protected characteristic. For example, an employer may not give preference to employees of a certain race when making shift assignments and may not segregate employees of a particular national origin from other employees or from customers.

Discipline & Discharge: Employers may not take into account a person's protected characteristic when making decisions about discipline or discharge. For example, if two employees commit a similar offense, an employer many not discipline them differently because of their protected characteristic.

Disability: Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or applicant with a disability, such as providing a wheelchair ramp or an interpreter for a blind or deaf employee or applicant, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer. A reasonable accommodation is any modification that helps a person with a disability enjoy the opportunities, benefits and privileges of employment.

Religion: Employers are required to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices, such as allowing an employee to swap shifts with a co- worker to attend religious services, unless doing so would cause difficulty or expense for the employer.

Harassment: Harassment on the basis of an employee’s protected characteristic is illegal. Sexual harassment, such as unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, is also unlawful. Although the law does not prohibit isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal if it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or if it results in an adverse employment decision.

An effective way to avoid claims of unlawful discrimination is to create and enforce a formal equal employment opportunity policy. Employees should also be trained to prevent, detect and address any unlawful behavior. Training should cover all relevant topics, such as employment liabilities, sexual harassment for managers and employees, discrimination and harassment prevention and disability discrimination.

If you would like to learn more about controlling employment-related liabilities, check out The Human Equation’s library of online courses or contact us.

The Human Equation prepares all risk management and insurance content with the professional guidance of Setnor Byer Insurance & Risk.

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