Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws

September 15, 2012 in , , , ,

Seven major federal statutes protect covered individuals from discrimination on in the workplace. They are:

  • Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)
  • Equal Pay Act (EPA)
  • Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)
This law applies to all employers regardless of size. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against any employee or prospective employee on the basis of application for, or membership in, a uniformed service. “Uniformed Services” includes the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard), the Army National Guard, the Air National Guard, when engaged in active or inactive duty for training, or full-time National Guard duty, the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and any other category of persons designated by the President in time of war or emergency.

Employers are required to grant those who take military leave the same rights as other employees on leaves of absence and provide returning employees with the same benefits they would have received if they had remained continuously employed.

USERRA also requires employers to offer employees and their dependents continuing health plan coverage for up to 24 months, and the unqualified right to employment for all returning members of the uniformed services, provided they meet certain criteria outlined in the law. Pension plan benefits that accrued during military service, regardless of whether they are defined benefit or defined contribution plans, are guaranteed under USERRA.

Equal Pay Act (EPA)
This Act was an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employers who are covered under the FLSA are also covered under the EPA, and the EPA may also cover some employees who are exempt from certain FLSA provisions.

The EPA prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same establishment who are performing similar work under similar working conditions. Employers are prohibited from paying workers of one gender less than the rate paid to employees of the opposite gender for work that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions.

Pay differentials are permitted when they are based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or a factor other than gender. However, it’s the employer’s burden to prove that such a factor exists. In correcting a pay differential that violates the statute, no employee’s pay may be reduced. Instead, the pay of the lower paid employee(s) must be increased.

Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)
Employers with four or more employees are prohibited from discriminating against applicants or employees in regard to recruiting, hiring, discharging, or referring for a fee, based on national origin or citizenship status. The act also bars all employers from hiring, continuing to employ, or referring aliens who are not authorized to work in the United States. All employers must have all new employees complete a Form I-9. The Form I-9 verifies an employee’s identity and provides documentation of his/her right to work in the United States. Employees are required to supply supporting documentation within three business days of starting employment. Employers must retain a completed copy of the Form I-9 for each employee for three years following the date of employment or one year following termination, whichever is later.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Employers with 15 or more employees on each working day in each of 20 or more calendar work-weeks in the current or preceding year are covered under this Act. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination, including harassment, against employees and applicants based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.

State and local anti-discrimination laws (Fair Employment Practices) and human rights laws may also prohibit discrimination against individuals in the same protected classes and may include additional protected classes.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits covered employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or other pregnancy-related medical conditions. While the PDA does not mandate a specific leave due to pregnancy, employers are required to treat pregnancy the same as they would treat any other temporary disability for purposes of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, seniority, leaves of absence, benefits, and pay increases.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It prohibits discrimination in employment against individuals on the basis of a disability and requires covered employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities unless such accommodation causes an undue hardship on the company.

Disability as defined under the ADA is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. Under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which amended the ADA, “disability” should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals under the Act.

Reasonable accommodation as defined under the ADA is a change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process, to perform the essential functions of the position, or to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
GINA applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Title II of GINA prohibits the use of genetic information in employment, prohibits the intentional acquisition of genetic information about applicants and employees, and imposes strict confidentiality requirements.

Title II of GINA prohibits discrimination on the basis of genetic information with respect to any terms, conditions, or privileges of employment including but not limited to hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, or fringe benefits. It also prohibits covered employers from intentionally acquiring genetic information with respect to an employee or a family member of the employee.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
This law applies to employers with 20 or more employees in each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year who are engaged in an industry affecting commerce. ADEA generally prohibits employers from engaging in age-based discrimination against workers and applicants who are 40 years of age or older. State laws may be more stringent.

Under the ADEA, employers may not mandate a retirement age for employees, except under certain occupational exemptions involving the safety of fellow employees or the general public.

Please review your state anti-discrimination laws to ensure compliance with all pertinent laws regarding discrimination.

This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought.


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