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What Laws Protect Employees Against Discrimination? - September 2019

Employment discrimination is something our country has been working to eliminate for, almost since our founding when the Fifth Amendment was written stating that the government could not deprive an individual of their "life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness." The federal government has continued to expand on this theme, particularly in an employment context. Further, the state of New York also has specific anti-discrimination laws aimed at further protecting the employees working on our state.

Fourteenth Amendment and the Equal Pay Act

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution underpins many employment discrimination laws as it grants all individuals, regardless of gender or race, equal protection. This limits state and federal governments from discriminating against current or future employees. For the private sector, in 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, an amendment to the existing Fair Labor Standards Act. This amendment was aimed at unequal pay where the reason for the unequal pay was the employee's gender.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The next year brought a broader protection against discrimination. This act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. Further, the act explicitly prohibited employers from discriminating in their hiring, firing, and compensation, required that they provide equal terms and conditions of employment and ensured all employees were granted equal privileges. Similar to private businesses, labor organizations were also prohibited from discriminating due to these characteristics.

Further Federal Discrimination Protection

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) adds that employers cannot prohibit on the basis of age, protecting employees between the ages of 40 and 65. These protections mirror the protections in the Civil Rights Act and add explicit guidelines regarding discriminatory practices in benefit, pension, and retirement plans.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Acts added protections for disabled individuals in the workplace. This includes discrimination based on physical and mental handicaps and even perceived disabilities. It also protects against retaliation for requesting or needing a reasonable accommodation. The act went further than the Civil Rights Act into affirmative action and encourages hiring these individuals in federal positions.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 increases the categories where discrimination is prohibited to include genetic information. As in the other acts mentioned above, federal employment and labor law, particularly relating to discrimination, is overseen by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) adds the right for employees to take leave from work (generally unpaid) to care for themselves or their family. This includes time to care for a newborn child, a new adoption, to manage the needs of a sick family member, or other similar situations where employees must provide support and assistance to their families. The FMLA requires that employers of a certain size not only refrain from discrimination, but also return employees to the same, or a similar position, when they return from leave.

New York State Human Rights Law

The state of New York has state level laws that also apply to employers with four or more employees, labor unions, or employment agencies. This law makes discrimination illegal on the basis of age, creed, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, disability, military status, domestic violence victim status, criminal or arrest record, pregnancy, or predisposing genetic characteristics. This law applies to hiring, firing, retirement, compensation, training, terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Further, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee due to the employee's filing of a complaint, opposing an unlawful practice, or his/her involvement in an investigation or proceeding.

Employers are also required to make reasonable accommodations for the known disabilities of employees. The employer must be able to show that such accommodation would cause an undue burden in difficulty or expense if it does not provide any necessary modifications.

Similarly, employees with sincerely held religious beliefs and practices are also protected in the state of New York. Employers cannot require their employees to violate or forgo such religious practices as a condition for hiring, promotion, or continued employment without first making an effort to accommodate the religious practice. Once a bona fide effort has been made, the employer may then be able to show that meeting the employee's practice created a hardship for the business.

If you think you are facing discrimination in the workplace, reach out to our team of experienced New York employment lawyers. When you hire Phillips & Associates, you can be confident that your rights are going to be protected just as aggressively as your employer protects the business. For a free consultation, call the attorneys at Phillips & Associates today at (833) 529-3476.

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"Jesse Weinstein handled my discrimination case. He was extremely patient and understanding throughout the process and remained professional and consistent even when I could not. I really felt like he had my back and I didn't have to worry. His expertise, combined with the experience of the Firm, resulted in the best possible outcome of my case. Although I wouldn't wish what I went through on anyone, things do and always will happen and I would highly recommend Jesse and this Firm to anyone facing discrimination or other workplace issues." Karen
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