In the United States, numerous federal laws aim to protect employees and job applicants from discrimination in the workplace. These laws, enforced primarily – although not exclusively – by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), prohibit discrimination based on various protected immutable characteristics.
Understanding the types of discrimination that are federally prohibited is important for both employers and employees alike. This knowledge can help employers understand their obligations and workers to better advocate for their rights if they have been violated.
Protected immutable characteristics
While many states safeguard additional personal characteristics in the realm of employment, federal law explicitly protects the following:
- Race/color: This involves treating an applicant or employee unfavorably because of their race or personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, etc. or certain facial features) or their color-related complexion.
- Sex: This includes treating someone unfavorably because of their sex. Sex discrimination also encompasses pregnancy, childbirth or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, sexual orientation, gender identity and transgender status.
- National origin: This includes discrimination against applicants or employees because of their nationality, ancestry, language, accent or because they may appear to be of a certain ethnic background.
- Age: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older.
- Religion: This involves treating a person unfavorably because of their religious beliefs. Employers are also required to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee’s religious beliefs or practices.
- Disability: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities unless an exception to this rule applies.
- Genetic Information: The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits discrimination against employees or applicants because of genetic information.
These kinds of discrimination may be prohibited, but that doesn’t mean that they’re always easy to identify. Anyone who believes that they may be experiencing unlawful mistreatment can seek legal guidance for personalized feedback at any time.