News >> Browse Articles >> HR News


How the EEOC Protects Workers

How the EEOC Protects Workers

Dan Woog / Monster

September 22, 2008

And employees do cry wolf. “Discrimination isn’t always there,” Fleischer says. “Sometimes it’s just a workplace dispute between two people.”

What Does the EEOC Watch For?

Title VII, a key part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, defines discrimination on the basis of an “immutable characteristic associated with race.” That means not just skin color but hair and facial features. For instance, an employer with a policy prohibiting beards might be found to discriminate against African American men who have a predisposition toward shaving bumps. However, if that no-beard policy is “job related and consistent with business necessity,” the EEOC sees it as nondiscriminatory.

Racial harassment, including jokes, derogatory comments, and other verbal or physical conduct, is illegal if it creates a hostile work environment or interferes with an employee’s work performance.

Employees should not be singled out by race or color. For example, it’s discriminatory to only assign an African American real estate agent to predominantly African American neighborhoods or to deny her listings in a mostly white area.

Employers must not discriminate based on birthplace, ancestry, culture or linguistic characteristics. For example, employees may be required to speak English on the job only if it’s a requirement for conducting business.

Additional Protections

• Religious protections for employees do not require employers to make more than “reasonable accommodations.” This could include providing a separate (though not exclusive) room for Muslim prayers or allowing a Jewish employee to swap shifts with a Christian colleague in order to arrive home before sunset to observe holidays.

• Sex-discrimination statutes cover many workplace issues, ranging from direct requests for sexual favors to indirectly creating a hostile work environment. For example, a supervisor dates a subordinate, who then receives a promotion; a colleague who was not promoted could file a complaint.

• The Equal Pay Act provides that men and women who perform work of similar skill, effort and responsibility receive the same wages and benefits.

• Employers must treat pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions like any other temporary illness or condition under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

• Older employees are protected against discrimination in many ways. Employers may not consider age as a factor in promotions, nor deny benefits to older employees.

• The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 covers both physical and mental impairments and directs employers to make reasonable accommodations." These can include modifications to workplace equipment or schedules and adjusting or modifying materials or policies. Employers are not, however, required to bear an “undue hardship” that requires significant difficulty or expense.

Related Articles:

Interview Questions: What’s Legal and What’s Not
If You Suspect Hiring Bias

Poll: How do you feel about crying at work?

Poll: How do you feel about crying at work?