Are there laws that can protect me from discrimination in my place of employment?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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Yes, there are many laws that do just that. Statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) show that discrimination charges–the formal complaints citizens make to the government–rose almost 10% nationwide in 2016 from 2015.  The biggest jumps were in retaliation charges and in disability charges. This is not uncommon in times when the economy is depressed, jobs are harder to find, and employers make more demands on their employees because they know they can. Discrimination based on such factors as disability, age, gender, religion, race/color, retaliation, and national origin is strictly prohibited by both state and federal statutes.

The following is a partial list of federal laws that directly address the issue of discrimination.

(1) Title VII – 29 USC & sect; 2000e-2000e-17

Prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. This law applies to public sector employers, as well as private sector employers who employ at least 15 employees (those with fewer than 15 are usually covered by state law). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces Title VII.

(2) The Family Medical Leave Act – 29 USC & sect; 2601, 2611-2619, 2651-2654

Requires employers with 50 or more employees to grant employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (within a 12 month period) for a) the birth of a child, b) the adoption of a child, c) a serious health condition that requires a leave of absence, or d) the care of a parent, spouse or child with a serious health condition.

(3) Age Discrimination in Employment Act – 29 USC & sect; 621-634

Prohibits discrimination based on age. Age is defined to be 40 years or older, so this law does not prohibit discrimination against those younger than 40. This law applies to public sector employers, and private sector employers with 20 or more employees. However, those under 40 years of age, or who work for smaller employers often are protected by state law.

(4) Americans with Disabilities Act – 42 USC & sect; 12101-12118

Prohibits discrimination based on physical or mental disability. This law applies to public sector employers, and private sector employers with more than 15 employees. Some states have laws that are more stringent.

*** Note: the ADA interprets “disability” to include Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). An employer cannot fire, or refuse to hire, a qualified employee because s/he has AIDS. Testing positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is generally considered as having a disability as well, so persons who are HIV positive are protected by the ADA.

(5) Equal Pay Act

Requires employers to pay employees who perform substantially equivalent work the same wage regardless whether the emploee is male or female (although pay differences based on seniority, merit or piece rate are permissible).

(6) The Immigration Reform & Control Act – 8 USC 1324a-1324c

Prohibits employers from hiring illegal aliens, but also prohibits employers from discrimination based on the citizenship status of aliens who have been lawfully admitted to the US.

(7) The Employee Polygraph Protection Act – 29 USC & sect; 2001-2009

Prohibits employers from requiring employees or prospective employees to take a polygraph (lie detector) test.

(8) Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

Part of Title VII, the PDA provides that employers with 15 or more employees and prospective employers cannot discriminate based on pregnancy or childbirth related medical conditions.

(Reviewed 4-2019)

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