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Prevent Discrimination in the Workplace FAQ

What kind of discrimination isn't allowed in the workplace?

Through a variety of laws, mostly federal, it is generally illegal to discriminate based on race, color, gender, national origin, religion, disability, citizenship, age and pregnancy. Some states offer protection to additional categories such as sexual orientation, marital status and weight.

I'm a small business owner - do antidiscrimination laws apply to me?

If you only have a few employees, as few as three, then most anti-discrimination laws don't apply to you. The major exception to this is the Equal Pay Act which prevents gender disparity in pay for the same or similar job. If you have fewer than 15 employees, only some antidiscrimination laws apply to you, and many (such as the Civil Rights Act) do not.

I have an employee who is complaining about discrimination, what should I do?

Even if you consider the complaint trivial or ridiculous, it's important to prevent an EEOC complaint or a lawsuit that you take the complaint seriously. Investigate the complaint thoroughly and if there is any basis for the allegation, find a remedy for the problem as quickly as possible.

Can I fire or reprimand an employee who complains about discrimination?

No. Almost all antidiscrimination laws have provisions that prevent retaliation and if you fire an employee for complaining, expect a lawsuit. You don't even have to fire someone who complains to fall afoul of the law: other forms of retaliation, such as a reprimand or refusal to promote, may be grounds to file a lawsuit for retaliation.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advances or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive workplace. Whether something is offensive is judged by asking whether a reasonable person should have to endure the conduct in question.

What is age discrimination?

Age discrimination occurs when an employer makes an employment decision based on an employee's age or on stereotypes about age or youth. Even if you honestly believe that younger, fresh faced sales people will sell more products, hiring or firing based on that belief would constitute age discrimination.

Can I discriminate based on sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is not a protected characteristic under federal law, and whether discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal depends on your state. Approximately fifteen states currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Can I require that work be done in English?

It depends on why you implement an English-only policy. If you can show that speaking English is necessary for legitimate businesses purposes, then having an English only policy may be allowed. However, if you are implementing an English only rule simply because you don't like other cultures, then this is likely illegal discrimination. If you do adopt an English only rule, then you must inform your employees of the rule and inform them of the consequences of breaking that rule.

An employee wants time off for religious reasons, do I have to give them time off?

Whether you needs to give an employee time off for religious purposes depends on how reasonable it would be to give them time off. You are required to try to accommodate religious employees on significant religious holidays, but if accommodating them would be unreasonable, then you do not have to offer time off. Reasonable ways to accommodate an employee include trading one employee's shift with another and not scheduling the employee to work on important holidays. If this cannot be done reasonably, then you are under no obligation to give the employee time off.

Do I have to accommodate a disabled employee?

You are only required to reasonably accommodate a disabled employee, not do whatever they ask of you. This means you must work sincerely with the disabled employee on finding a solution to a problem and accommodating the disabled employee if to do so would be reasonable.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified business attorney to help you
prevent and address human resources problems.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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