Workplace Discrimination FAQs

Both employers and employees need to understand the state and federal laws that prevent illegal discrimination in the workplace. Employers need to know the rules against workplace discrimination in order to avoid running afoul of them and ending up being investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and potentially being sued by aggrieved workers.  Employees need to know the rules that protect them so they will know their rights and can take appropriate action when employers treat them unjustly.

A Maryland discrimination lawyer can provide personalized assistance to employers and employees who want to understand discrimination laws or who need help with legal issues ranging from drafting employer handbooks and settling anti-discrimination policies to taking legal action to fight against unlawful discrimination. An attorney can provide help with both individual claims as well as class action litigation when many individuals were victimized by a discriminatory employer.

If you need help from a legal professional with discrimination issues, you should contact an attorney for personalized advice. You can also read on below to get answers to some frequently asked questions about discrimination in the workplace so you can be better informed about how discrimination affects you.

What is Workplace Discrimination?

Workplace discrimination occurs when an employer treats any current or potential employee differently based on that worker’s protected class or protected status. Many individuals are members of protected classes, which means anti-discrimination laws have been passed on the federal or state level that prohibit discriminating against them due to certain innate traits or characteristics.  When an employee is victimized by workplace discrimination, the employee can take various legal actions including filing a complaint with federal or state regulatory agencies and filing a civil lawsuit to recover compensation for discrimination.

What Types of Employer Behavior Can Be Considered Workplace Discrimination?

Employers are not permitted to discriminate on any of the terms or conditions of employment based on someone’s protected class or protected status. An employer cannot take protected status into account when deciding who to hire, who to promote, whether an employee is eligible for a promotion, or what workplace benefits different employees are entitled to.

Who is Protected By Workplace Discrimination Laws?

There are many different laws that prohibit different kinds of discrimination and protect certain classes or groups of people. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, or sex. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination against older workers. The Americans With Disabilities Act protects against discrimination on the basis of disability status.

These are all federal laws that prohibit discrimination against employees across the country. Individual states also have their own laws in place that prevent discrimination – and some provide broader protection than federal laws do. For example, many states have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation so gay and lesbian workers cannot be discriminated against. Some states also extend protections to transgender workers. A minority of states also have rules in place prohibiting discrimination on the basis of political viewpoints.

These state-specific rules only protect employees who work in states where the rules apply; there are no broad federal protections preventing discrimination on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation, or political viewpoints.

When is an Employer Required to Make Reasonable Accommodations – And What Does That Mean?

Some anti-discrimination laws not only prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of someone’s protected status, but they also require employers to make accommodations for certain employees.

For example, the protections in Title VII against religious discrimination require that employers accommodate a worker’s religious beliefs as long as doing so does not pose an undue burden. An employer who normally prohibits any headgear at the office might, for example, be required to allow members of certain religious groups to wear headgear like a turban or yarmulke.

Protections for disabled workers also require employers to make reasonable accommodations so someone who is disabled but otherwise qualified for a job can be hired or retained. For example, if a worker’s disability prevents him for standing for long periods of time but the worker is otherwise qualified to work as a cashier, a store that is hiring cashiers might be required to provide a seat for a disabled candidate who applies even if most cashiers have to stand for their shift.

Does an Employer Face Legal Liability Only for Intentional Discrimination?

In some cases, employers intentionally and overtly discriminate. For example, an employee may refuse to promote women because of their gender or African American candidates as a result of their race.

However, this type of discrimination is not the only type of discrimination that is prohibited by Title VII and other anti-discrimination laws.  Employers are also prohibited from disparate impact discrimination and can be held legally liable if they engage in this type of misconduct.

Disparate impact discrimination occurs when an employer establishes a job qualification that has the effect of disqualifying more people of a protected class. For example, if an employer required that every employee be able to easily lift 100 pounds of weight, this could be considered to be a form of disparate impact discrimination because men are much more likely than women to be able to achieve this objective.

Not every test or job requirement that has the effect of disqualifying more members of a protected class can result in a successful claim of unlawful discrimination. Employers are allowed to impose employment requirements that have a disparate impact if there is a bona fide occupational purpose. For example, if the employer is hiring someone to load trucks with heavy boxes and the boxes all weigh more than 100 pounds, there would be a bona fide job-related reason for a test requiring workers to lift 100 pounds of weight and such a job requirement would not be considered discriminatory.

What is Hostile Work Environment Discrimination?

Employers can also be held legally liable for another type of unlawful discrimination, which is called hostile work environment discrimination. Hostile work environment discrimination occurs when an employee is made unreasonably uncomfortable at his or her job as a result of his or her protected status.

For example, a female employee who is routinely and repeatedly subjected to sexist jokes and comments by coworkers might be a victim of hostile work environment discrimination. An employer could be held legally liable for this type of discrimination even if the unlawful behavior is carried out by peers or even subordinates – the unlawful behavior doesn’t have to be done by the management or sanctioned by the company executives to be illegal discrimination.

Employers can protect themselves by providing a means for workers to report discriminatory behavior and by taking action to respond to such a report. If employers can prove that they  had a system in place to protect workers and that the employee who is claiming to be a victim of hostile work environment discrimination chose, without reason, not to take advantage of the system, the employer can escape liability.

In order for discrimination to create a hostile work environment, there generally must be a pattern of behavior rather than an isolated event, unless the isolated event was an extreme one that shocked the consciousness. The pattern of behavior must include behavior that a reasonable person would find offensive or discriminatory.

Why is It Important to Get Help From a Maryland Discrimination Lawyer?

It is important for victims of discrimination to get help from a Maryland discrimination lawyer because an attorney can help you to understand your rights and pursue a claim for appropriate legal remedies. You could fight for back pay, damages for emotional distress, reinstatement of your job, and other remedies that you are entitled to as a result of the specific unlawful discrimination that you fell victim to.

Proving a claim of discrimination can be difficult, and you need to make certain that you contact an attorney right away so your lawyer can help you to begin documenting evidence and can work with you to ensure you are able to prove unlawful discrimination occurred.

Employers should also consult with an attorney as a preemptive step to avoid a lawsuit or EEOC claim by establishing and enforcing anti-discrimination policies in the workplace. If an employer is accused of unlawful discrimination, hiring an attorney can also be helpful to take action in building a defense against serious accusations that could result in damage to the company’s reputation as well as substantial financial loss.

Many employment-related disputes involving discrimination are settled outside of court, and attorneys can help to facilitate negotiations between the opposing parties. An attorney can also provide assistance making a compelling case in court and presenting evidence in an admissible way that is understandable to a jury hearing the case.

To find out more about how an attorney can provide assistance with legal issues related to discrimination, contact a Maryland discrimination lawyer today for help and support. Call The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C. at (410) 514-6099 or contact us online as soon as possible.

Written by Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C.

Attorney Jamaal (“Jay”) W. Stafford has extensive experience counseling and representing clients facing complex and challenging legal issues. He puts his experience to work with each client to help them get their desired results, no matter what legal situation they are facing. Each service that is offered is backed by his experience, education, professional training, and passion for employment law and litigation.

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