You may be aware of some types of illegal discrimination in the workplace – race, religion, gender (including sexual harassment) – but there are other federal laws that can protect you in the workplace too. I am writing to you today to inform you of your rights with respect to age, disability, pregnancy, and genetic information discrimination.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
As the American workforce continues to age – currently, over 16 million workers over 55 are working or seeking work – the ADEA will continue to provide crucial protections. Under federal law, individuals aged 40 or over are protected from unlawful discrimination. This applies to any term, condition, or privilege of employment including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, benefits & compensation, job assignments, or training. For example, an employer cannot refuse to train an older employee because they might retire soon and they can’t layoff older workers first, just because they make more money. Also, while the law does not specifically prohibit employers from asking for date of birth, any request for age will be scrutinized to insure that the inquiry was made for a lawful purpose.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Discrimination based on a disability is prohibited by the ADA. Employers subject to the ADA cannot discriminate against a qualified worker with a disability, a worker with a history of impairment, or a worker who is regarded as disabled (even if the employer is wrong and the employee is not actually disabled). Disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; temporary ailments don’t count as disabilities. Please note that for an employee to seek protection under the ADA, they must be capable of performing the essential duties of the job and need no more than a “reasonable accommodation” to do so. Employers can claim that an accommodation is an “undue hardship,” in order to avoid providing the accommodation and/or not employ the disabled worker, but this is a claim that is subject to review by the EEOC to determine its legitimacy.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Pregnancy discrimination is one of the fastest growing segments of discrimination – the EEOC recorded a surge in pregnancy discrimination complaints of 14% in 2007, up 40% from a decade ago. Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes illegal gender discrimination under civil rights law. An employer is prohibited from refusing to hire, or terminating, a worker because of her pregnancy or because of the prejudices of co-workers, clients, or customers. An employer cannot discriminate between pregnancy and other medical conditions – this includes medical leave, medical expenses, and medical insurance coverage. Also, pregnancy benefits can’t be limited to married employees only.
Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
Protection of a person’s genetic information is a recently granted protection – this law took effect in November, 2009. This law states that it is illegal to discriminate against employees because of their genetic information, restricts employers’ acquisition of genetic information, and places strict limits on disclosure of information. Genetic information includes information from genetic tests, genetic tests of family members, and family medical history. Discrimination on any condition or privilege of employment is prohibited, and GINA also made it illegal to harass anyone because of his/her genetic information.
If you suspect that your rights have or are being violated in one of these areas, or experience conduct that you believe is discriminatory, please contact your Union representatives or the Union office immediately. Further information on these, and all of the laws pertaining to discrimination, can be found at www.eeoc.gov.