Businesses have always done whatever they can to improve efficiency, performance, and bring down overhead. While these goals like perfectly normal and acceptable business practices, it also linked directly to a long history of taking advantage of and even abusing employees in order to achieve these goals. We’re not saying that every employer is a Dickensian villain, but if left to their own devices without regulations and laws, many businesses would start to slide down that slippery slope of personal bias and employee underappreciation.
Where Employee Rights Start to Slip
Hours get longer, wages get shorter, and employees will be asked to take on more and more duties without compensation and sometimes seeing their rewards going to a more favored coworker. This might sound like a made up horror story for those lucky enough to have a long run of good employers and bosses, but if you’ve ever been in an under-monitored and slowly corrupting job situation, then you know exactly what we are here to talk about today.
Employee rights have always been a touchy subject in the business world precisely because the laws that defend employee rights were put into place to fight big businesses with progressively less fair or humane policies.
Civil Rights and the EEOC
While we all have certain inalienable rights defined in our founding documents, it wasn’t until 1964 as a result of the nation-wide civil rights movement that the Civil Rights Act was penned and put into action. Initially intended to reduce racial violence and discrimination during a very delicate time in history for both employers and professionals, the Civil Rights Act also paved the way for acknowledging that there are certain rights that all employees should have regarding discrimination and fair treatment in comparison to coworkers of equal or comparable rank.
Within the Civil Rights Act is a special section known as the EEOC or Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Its purpose is to ensure that employers aren’t hiring people who are only of their own culture, gender, age group, nationality, religion, or skin color. Under these rules, employers can’t consistently hire or promote one non-meritocratically-defined group of people over another, fail to give respect and responsibility, or limit the employment terms of a protected category of employees.
Employment agencies can’t fail to refer employment for specific groups of people and they can’t start sorting who they refer based on age, gender, nationality, color, and so forth. Discrimination, in general, is also against the rules and includes verbal remarks, desk placement, duty assignment, and many other more subtle aspects of workplace bias.While it’s easy to say these things and point at very clear examples of bias and unfair treatment, actually spotting and addressing existing biases in the workplace is a lot more complicated.
Cultural, Religious, and Color Discrimination
When trying to spot and clearly identify discrimination in the workplace, it’s important to know the difference between a clumsy attempt at cultural consideration and what is prejudice. Let’s say you are openly Jewish, the office knows your religion and culture, and your boss stops you to ask if you need a Kosher meal at the company picnic. This is not discrimination. If you explain that you don’t keep Kosher but they ask you every single time there’s a company event, this is bordering on discrimination.
Other examples might be grouping all ‘the foreign’ employees together for almost any reason other than that they arrived as a team is likely to be discrimination and any situation where preference or privilege is constantly given to a specific demographic over others is very likely to be illegal.
Discrimination based on age is an interesting issue because it only goes one way. It is meant to prevent companies from firing, laying off, or reducing the duties of employees over the age of 40 in favor of younger coworkers. However, it is legal to favor older employees over younger ones despite credentials.
Gender discrimination is one of the most hotly debated subjects in the EEOC precisely because it’s still rampant. This can be spotted as a company with female-only clerical staff and male-only professionals up to refusing to promote women from inside the company in favor of hiring men to supervise the unpromoted women instead. This issue is still ongoing and one individual manager bias is all it takes to sour a workplace.
Americans with Disabilities Act
If you are disabled or have a physical condition that could be considered a disability, workplaces are not allowed to tell you what you can and cannot do or make a big deal out of the disability status. As long as you can perform work tasks as assigned or reasonably trade tasks with close coworkers to achieve a complete work week every week, then employers cannot lay you off, refuse to promote you, or deny you future responsibilities or raises. Employers must also be ready to provide a certain amount of accommodation, like additional tools or the ability to switch job tasks, so that you can complete the duties of your position around your disability.
Watch out for identification discrimination as well. If every time you are introduced it is “This is Tom, he’s disabled”, that is discriminatory harassment and could be damaging your relationship with coworkers, clients, and even future employers.
Family Status Discrimination
There are a number of regulations relating to protecting your personal and family status relating to employment, promotion, and discrimination. The Family and Medical Leave Act requires workplaces to provide at least 12 weeks of leave time for qualified medical purposes like pregnancy and giving birth. This prevents companies from simply firing pregnant women and refusing to let them come back after they’ve recovered from having the baby.
Family status is also protected when it comes to hiring, firing, promotions, and treatment at work. Employers are not allowed to ask or tell others about your marital status, sexual orientation or other outside-work life choices. It is also unlawful to refuse to hire or promote a person because they are pregnant or to make disparaging remarks about family status including ‘mama’ jokes to or about a pregnant woman or remarking on who an employee chooses as their romantic partner.
If you have been held back from career advancement, denied rewards for your work, have been penalized or even terminated based on your age, gender, color, religion, nationality, family status, or disability, then your civil rights as an employee have been violated. Often even the threat of a lawsuit is enough to draw attention to the problem and effect changes and if it doesn’t your lawsuit can force changes for the better and fair treatment for you and others in your situation along with bringing these shameful practices to light.
Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we specialize in defending the rights of employees in the face of employers who refuse to make things right when confronted. For more information about defending workplace rights or to find an experienced employee rights attorney for your case, contact us today!