Employment discrimination occurs when an employee, or potential employee, is treated less favorably than other similar employees solely because of certain characteristics. These characteristics or backgrounds are protected by law and are known as protected classes. Some examples of characteristics which may not be used to discriminate against an employee include:
- Sex or gender;
- Religion; and
Employment discrimination may also occur when one group of employees are treated better than another based on protected classes or categories. An example of this would be when one group of workers clearly receives certain benefits that are withheld from others, based on their sex or gender.
Such discrimination generally happens when a person has already been hired, but may happen when a person is seeking employment. An example of this scenario would be when a person isn’t hired for a job because they are a certain religion, but they are otherwise qualified for the position.
The factors of discrimination are referred to as immutable characteristics due to the fact that a person is born with these characterisitcs and cannot change them. These immutable characteristics in no way hinder the employee’s ability to perform the essential tasks of their job.
What Is the EEOC? How Are Small Businesses Defined by the EEOC?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or “EEOC,” is an administrative agency that exists to enforce the various anti discrimination laws passed by the federal government. Some examples include the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
If an employee is facing discrimination, they would first file a complaint with the EEOC who would then conduct an investigation into the workplace and their discriminatory practices. It is important to note that employees must first obtain the permission of the EEOC before they may file a discrimination suit in a federal court. The EEOC may also sue employers on behalf of the federal government.
The EEOC supervises and regulates several federal laws in relation to small business owners. These include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This act prohibits employers who have fifteen or more employees from discriminating against protected classes. As such, small business owners may not be held liable for employment discrimination if they have less than fifteen employees. However, a cause of action may still be available if there is apparent discrimination;
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967: This law governs employers who employ twenty or more people. The Act specifically requires that no age discrimination occurs to employees who are over the age of forty;
- Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: The Act prohibits discrimination based on disability from an employer who employees fifteen or more people;
- Equal Pay Act of 1963: The Act specifically requires that all genders receive equal pay for equal work. They must be paid equal salaries if their jobs are similar in nature, and the jobs must be substantially similar but not identical in order to fulfill this requirement.
As you can see, most small businesses will likely be exempt from EEOC governance, as most small businesses employ fewer than fifteen people. Fortunately, there may be other courses of action if the employer is engaging in discriminatory behavior. You should consult with a local attorney if you are employed by a small business and are facing discrimination, as the attorney can help you understand your options based on your state’s employment laws.
What Else Is Prohibited by Employment Discrimination Laws? What Are Some Examples of Workplace Discrimination?
As previously mentioned, it is illegal to treat one group more favorably than another based on protected classes. An employer may not deny certain benefits to a group of employees based on their protected class, and they may not grant certain benefits to another group for their not belonging to a protected class. An example of this would be an employer giving higher pay to male employees than to female employees for doing the same work under the same conditions.
Employment discrimination laws are expanding to include more categories and classes. A specific example of this is how sexual orientation and gender identity are being considered more when it comes to workplace anti discrimination policies and laws.
One of the most common examples of workplace discrimination occurs when an otherwise qualified candidate does not receive the job due to their belonging to a protected class. An example of this would be an employer refusing to hire a person because they are a certain religion, or an unqualified male being given the position over a qualified female.
Many wrongful termination claims are closely related to or involve discrimination claims. This is due to the fact that it is illegal to terminate an employee based on their belonging to a protected class.
Do I Need an Attorney for Help with Small Business Employment Discrimination?
If you are employed by a small business and are facing employment discrimination not covered by the EEOC, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable employment attorney. An experienced employment attorney can inform you of your options and help you recover damages.
Additionally, an attorney can help you gather evidence, file your civil complaint against your employer, and represent you in court. An employment attorney can also assist any small business owners who are facing a complaint filed against them.