The laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are those written by Congress and approved by the president to protect employment opportunities for everyone, regardless of color, race, religion, sex, or national origin. These laws safeguard employees and applicants for employment throughout the employment process, while deciding wages, benefits, transfers, training, terminations, layoffs or early retirement.
Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII provides safeguards against discrimination in employment by enforcing employment law pertaining to discrimination, which includes harassment and bullying in employment situations. Additionally, the EEOC may work with Foreign Embassies and other agencies such as the Immigration and Naturalization Agency (INA), Office of Special Counsel (OSC), and others through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) when their duties overlap.
The commission normally deals with protecting the employment rights of people who need a disability or pregnancy accommodation, employees who have suffered or believe they are victims of transgender or sexual orientation, age, national origin, genetic information, racial, religious discrimination, or need intervention with workplace harassment. Although it is normally wronged employees who file a Charge of Discrimination that need assistance or investigation, employers may receive advice or training from the EEOC.
The 10 ways the EEOC protects your employment rights
The EEOC uses the published legislative Acts to investigate and enforce many workplace situations involving discrimination, harassment, and bullying. Title VII prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment from recruitment to retirement and every workplace scenario in between. Normally, employers with fifteen or more employees are covered by Title VII protections; however, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) requires 20 employees and some state and local ordinances may provide further protections for employees by reducing that number.
1. Age (over 40) discrimination
The ADEA prohibits discrimination because of age for people over 40 years of age. Discrimination can still occur when both the employer (or another inflicting party) and the employee are over 40, but a person under 40 cannot claim discrimination against an employer that hires an older worker.
Employer policies that seem to apply to everyone, but are indirectly discriminatory to workers over age 40 may be illegal, such as a fitness test for office workers. The objective test is the “reasonable factor other than age” (RFOA) if none exist then if may be unlawful, ask the EEOC before implementing the policy.
2. Disability discrimination
Disability discrimination happens in the workplace when employers treat an otherwise qualified employee or applicant for employment with a disability unfavorably because of that disability. Additionally, discrimination may happen when an employee has a disability history (cancer in remission or controlled diabetes, etc.), is believed to have an impairment, or a family member has a disability.
In addition, employers are mandated to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities unless such accommodations would cause a financial or other “undue hardship”.
3. Equal pay & compensation
The act requires that women and men are provided equal pay and benefits for equal work when employed in the position in the same workplace. “Substantially equal” is the determining factor and the job content, not the title, is what concludes substantial equality of positions. All types of salary and benefits are subject to the law and when a disparity is discovered an employer may not reduce the wage or benefit to equalize the benefit or pay.
How the EPA differs from other forms of discrimination is that a person alleging a violation of the act may bring their complaint directly to court without filing a Charge of Discrimination. There is a two-year statute of limitations both at court and at the EEOC.
4. National origin discrimination
Discrimination based on national origin involves treating applicants or employees differently than others because they are from a particular country or ethnicity, or have an accent. This can be unfavorable (denial of employment or benefits) or favorable when an employer only hires those from their country.
5. Genetic information discrimination
Title II, GINA makes discriminating against applicants or employees due to information gained through genetic testing, intentionally or unintentionally unlawful. Employment decisions may not be made based on that information and purchasing, requiring, or requesting such information is unlawful. Careful filing of the information is required and needless release is prohibited without the written consent of the employee.
6. Sex, sexual orientation, & transgender discrimination
Discrimination against applicants or employees based on their sex, marital status, transgender status, or sexual orientation is sexual discrimination whether the perceived status is true or not it is discrimination and may be illegal.
7. Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is the unwanted, continuous harassment which is severe or frequent enough to create an offensive or hostile environment or results in adverse employment decisions, such as termination, suspension, or demotion. The harassers could be other employees, supervisors, independent contractors, customers, or clients and can be same-sex.
8. Pregnancy discrimination
Pregnancy discrimination is another form of sex discrimination. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discrimination toward a pregnant woman in any facet concerning the pregnancy, whether that is appointments, maternity leave, portions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or required accommodations to shifts or duty responsibilities due to health concerns.
9. Race or color discrimination
Racial discrimination can happen when an employer treats someone unfavorably due solely to the person’s skin complexion or the skin complexion of the individual’s partner. Discrimination may even occur when the employee/applicant and the employer are the same color or race.
10. Religious discrimination
Religious discrimination may occur when an employer treats an applicant or employee differently because of their faith or lack thereof, or their spouse, partner, or their associates are of a certain faith or non-faith.
How to exercise your employment rights
When an employer or another person in your workplace discriminates or harasses you, let them know immediately their behavior is illegal and you will not tolerate it. Journalize events and incidents of discrimination or harassment, then notify the EEOC if the behavior persists.