Equal Employment Opportunity Overview: What You Need to Know
Jun 15, 2010 QuickCounsel Download PDF
By Eric Quinn
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates and enforces federal workplace discrimination complaints based on an individual's race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability and retaliation for reporting and/or opposing a discriminatory practice. Employers must be mindful of these statutes, as well as State and International laws, when hiring and firing employees, offering promotions or benefits, and giving or failing to give pay raises.
Federal Anti-discrimination Law
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) states, in part, that it is unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire any individual over 40 because of such individual's age. While maturity is essential for most positions, it is important that you don't make an assumption about a candidate's maturity based on age. The ADEA further forbids discrimination when it comes to promotions, firings and layoffs, pay, training, and fringe benefits.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified people with disabilities during the hiring process. This may include treating an applicant less favorably because she has a history of a disability or denying employment opportunities to an applicant who truly qualifies for the position. The ADA further forbids discrimination when it comes to promotions, firing and layoffs, pay, training, and fringe benefits.
Passed in 2008, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits employers from discriminating based on genetic information. Genetic information includes an individual's genetic tests and the genetic tests of family members, as well as information about any disease, disorder, or condition of an individual's family members. Because genetic information is not an indication of an employee's current ability to work, an employer may never use genetic information to make an employment decision.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits, among other things, employer discrimination based on national origin, race, religious beliefs and sex. Hiring and firing practices, compensation plans, terms and conditions of employment, and privileges of employment all fall within the purview of discrimination.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 states that an employer cannot refuse to hire a pregnant woman because of her pregnancy, because of a pregnancy-related condition, or because of the prejudices of co-workers, clients, or customers.
While no Federal Law currently prohibits employer discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which addresses the omission, is a proposed bill in the United States Congress.
State and Local Law
Additional hiring practices may be forbidden by state and local governments. When state/local laws are more strict and expansive than federal law, the state/local law applies. Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have policies that prohibit both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Other states have enacted laws prohibiting marital/familial status discrimination. Employers must be attuned to these laws and regulations before initiating the hiring process.
European Union Law
The European Union Directive 2000/78/EC is part of a series of measures aiming to combat discrimination in the workplace. Article 13 of the EC Treaty, introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam, specifically empowers the Community to combat discrimination based on sex, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. The Directive concerns the following areas:
Canada's Employment Equity Act of 1995 was enacted to ensure that federally regulated employers provide equal opportunities for employment and benefits to four designated groups: women, Aboriginal peoples, people with disabilities and members of visible minorities.
The Act requires affected employers to prepare and implement an employment equity plan that specifies the policies and practices to be instituted for the hiring, training, promotion and retention of persons in designated groups. Private sector employers must also file a comprehensive annual report with the Minister.
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