Employment Discrimination Laws in Small Business

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 What Is the EEOC? How Are Small Businesses Defined by the EEOC?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or simply the EEOC, is an agency of the federal government. It was established in 1964 for the purposes of administering and enforcing federal laws that make it illegal for employers to engage in discriminatory conduct in the workplace. 

Specifically, the EEOC enforces regulations that prohibit discrimination in the workplace and that involve any of the following aspects of employment:

  • Hiring job candidates, including during the interview process;
  • Terminating current employees;
  • Offering raises or promotions to workers; 
  • Harassing employees or allowing acts of harassment to continue after being put on notice; 
  • Allocating wages or benefits; and 
  • Providing training to employees. 

An employer will be required to be in compliance with various federal employment laws that are enforced by the EEOC if they have at least 15 employees who have worked for 20 weeks or longer during the current or previous calendar year. This rule generally extends to labor unions, employment agencies, state or local governments, federal government agencies, and joint apprenticeship committees.  

The EEOC may also oversee employment discrimination matters that involve a small business as well. A small business may need to abide by EEOC guidelines if:

  • The small business has between 15 to 19 employees;
  • The small business has 20 or more employees (note that a small business of this size will be subject to additional regulations); or
  • The small business has at least one employee. In this instance, the primary EEOC guideline that will be enforced here is the law that requires employers to provide equal pay for both male and female workers.

Thus, if you are a small business owner, then there is a good chance that you will need to comply with EEOC guidelines and federal regulations. To learn more about the EEOC requirements for small businesses you can visit the EEOC’s website. They have a specific section that covers such topics for small businesses or you can consult a local employment attorney for further legal guidance on the matter.

What Else Is Prohibited by Employment Discrimination Laws? What Are Some Examples of Workplace Discrimination?

Aside from employment practices, such as the promoting, terminating, or hiring of an employee, the EEOC is also responsible for enforcing and overseeing matters in the workplace that pertain to several important employment anti-discrimination laws. These laws include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”): Title VII is one of the main sources of federal employment law that makes it illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of race, religion, color, gender, and/or national origin. It is also the law that helped to establish the EEOC. Thus, under this law, the EEOC is tasked with investigating employee complaints that involve employment discrimination based on one of these traits. 
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: This Act amends Title VII and makes it illegal to discriminate against those who are pregnant, gave birth, or have a medical condition related to pregnancy or giving birth. 
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”): The main purpose of the ADEA is to prevent businesses from employing discriminatory tactics in the process of recruiting, hiring, firing, or promoting of prospective, new, current, or former workers, based on their age.
  • Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”): Title I of the ADA makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against persons with disabilities. It also protects employees from employer retaliation if they file a complaint with the EEOC or a lawsuit. 
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963: This Act ensures that male and female workers are paid equal wages if they perform the same job and are employed by the same company. The Act also protects workers from employer retaliation if they file a complaint with the EEOC or file a private lawsuit. 
  • Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA): Title II of GINA makes it illegal to discriminate against job applicants and current employees due to either their own genetic information or the genetic information discovered about a worker’s family members. 

In other words, employment anti-discrimination laws protect covered employees from being harassed or discriminated against by employers who are required to comply with these laws.

So, for example, the EEOC is the primary enforcer of certain federal employment laws for small business, such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Under the Equal Pay Act, a small business that must comply with EEOC guidelines will also be required to provide equal pay to both male and female workers. This is true regardless of the number of workers that a small business employs. 

In continuing with this example, a small business employer is also not allowed to retaliate against an employee for submitting a complaint regarding unequal pay or filing a private lawsuit against the employer in civil court. This means that the employer cannot terminate or demote an employee for asserting their rights concerning an issue related to unequal wages.

Under EEOC guidelines and various federal laws, a small business employer cannot implement policies or engage in practices that negatively impact prospective hires or current employees because of their color, race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, or pregnancy status. A small business employer may also not harass employees or prospective hires based on any of these protected traits. 

For instance, if a small business employer refuses to hire job applicants who practice a certain religion or have a disability, then they can be sued and investigated for employment discrimination. 

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with Small Business Employment Discrimination?

If you believe that your employer has violated your rights as an employee or has discriminated against you under a similar employment anti-discrimination law, then it may be in your best interest to hire a local discrimination lawyer for further legal guidance as soon as possible.

An experienced small business lawyer can determine whether you have a viable claim, and if so, can assist you in filing a claim for employment discrimination against your small business employer and in obtaining relief. Your attorney can also help you to protect your interests and defend your legal rights under the applicable laws. 

In addition, if you are not ready to file a lawsuit, your attorney can help you file a complaint with the EEOC or enter into informal negotiations with your employer outside of court. 

Alternatively, if you are a small business employer who is being sued by one or more of your employees for employment discrimination, then an employment attorney will be able to assist you in building a defensive strategy and can provide legal representation in court. Your attorney can also perform legal research to find out whether there are any defenses that you might be able to raise against the claim and can discuss the potential outcomes of the lawsuit. 

Regardless of whether you are employed by a small business or are a small business owner, your attorney will be able to answer any questions you may have concerning EEOC compliance. They can also assist you in resolving disputes over employment issues in an efficient manner.

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