Do you know there are federal and state laws protecting your rights at your workplace? These rights, taken together mean that you have a right not to be harassed or discriminated against at your workplace, not to be retaliated against for taking part in a protected activity, and to work in a safe environment. It is important to note that the law does not make all harassing conduct or behavior by an employer unlawful. Rather, in order to be actionable, the discriminatory conduct has to relate to at least one of the following protected categories that you may belong to race, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, national origin, or religion.
Let’s take a look at a few examples:
- Joe, a 68-year-old cashier has been working with a retailer for the last four years. Joe has recently been terminated from his job, and the position was quickly replaced with a 28-year-old young man. Joe never had any issues with his performance or conduct. Joe may have an age discrimination claim against the retailer.
- Natalie has a disability as she suffers from ADHD. Some of her co-workers have been constantly making fun of her ADHD. Natalie complained to her supervisor about the ongoing harassment, with no luck. She may have a disability discrimination claim against her employer.
- Steve was recently involved in an auto accident and had to take a few days off from work to undergo neck surgery. His supervisor became upset with him for his absence from work and also for his lower work productivity following the neck surgery. Steve can seek disability accommodation from his employer.
- Jessica works at a plant. Her male supervisor often makes sexually inappropriate comments and physical gestures to her making her feel extremely uncomfortable. Jessica may have a sexual harassment
- Maria is a Hispanic. Her co-workers often ridicule her accent and the culture she came from. Maria made multiple complaints to her supervisor, and also to Human Resources. A few days later, Maria was terminated from her job. She may have a discrimination claim based on both race and national origin as well as a retaliation claim against her employer.
Some of these protections may begin even before you are actually employed. During the hiring process, for example, an employer cannot discriminate against you because you belong to one of the protected categories mentioned above. Please note that an employer can refuse to hire you because of the minimum qualifications required for the job. However, he cannot refuse to hire you because of your ethnic background or your religious belief.
Once you are on the job, the law again protects you from any harassment or discrimination from your employer. For example, your employer should not allow your supervisor or other workers to make any improper or derogatory comments about your race, sex, age, religion, national origin, or disability as mentioned above.
If you have a disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires your employer to make reasonable accommodations for you. Your employer should try to make changes to your work schedule or your work area to help you do your job successfully unless making the changes will cost your employer too much to afford it reasonably.
Besides discrimination, your employer also cannot retaliate against you for taking part in a protected activity. This, for example, means that your employer cannot fire you for complaining about any ongoing harassment or for filing a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. That would be clear retaliation.
For any Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims as stated above, the law does not allow you to immediately file a lawsuit with the court. There is a precondition to be met. You first need to file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place, which would then investigate your claim. It is, therefore, very important not to wait long after the discriminatory conduct occurs and to timely file a complaint with the EEOC.
Beyond all these discrimination and harassment issues, there are some other protections the laws provide you as an employee:
- you have the right to get paid for your work, regardless of your immigration status.
- If you work overtime as a non-exempt worker, you are entitled to overtime wages for those hours worked.
- If you have the same job title and perform the same job functions as other workers, the Equal Pay Act requires your employer to pay you equally.
- Your employer must not expose you to hazardous work conditions that might pose great danger or risks to your health and /or safety.
Some of the primary federal laws that afford you protection over workplace-related issues are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 1964; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA); the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA); The Equal Pay Act; Fair Labor Standards Act, etc. In the end, if you can prove your discrimination claim and win the case, you may be eligible for back pay, front pay, lost benefits, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.