Is Your Company in Compliance?While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be at the top of most employers minds, it’s important to not forget important employment laws and regulations. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) is reminding employers to follow and be mindful of these major anti-discrimination laws as they work through these unprecedented times.

Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is considered the most important anti-discrimination law. Title VII of this law expressly bans employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or religion.

The reach of Title VII is expansive. Protection extends to a full range of employment actions, including recruitment, selections, terminations and other decisions concerning terms and conditions of employment. In addition, it offers protection against sexual harassment and other forms of harassment.

Just recently, the Supreme Court ruled — in Bostock v. Clayton County — that Title VII workplace protections extended to gay and transgender employees. The Court held that firings of gay and transgender workers violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act’s ban on employment discrimination “because … of sex” language.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) — an amendment to Title VII — makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition (such as a miscarriage).

The law provides the following key benefits to employees and job applicants.

  • Employers can’t refuse to hire applicants because of their pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions.
  • Employers can’t require pregnant workers to meet special requirements regarding job duties unless all other employees are held to the same requirements.
  • If a pregnancy-related medical condition keeps a worker from performing her job, the employer must provide the same accommodations that it provides for other temporarily disabled employees.
  • Employers can’t prohibit pregnant employees from working or refuse to allow them to return to work after giving birth.

Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is another impactful and far-reaching piece of legislation designed to protect people with disabilities in virtually every aspect of employment.

In some cases, the ADA may protect people who don’t have a current disability, such as an employee with a history of cancer who is in remission. Similarly, the ADA protects a person related to or associated with someone with a disability.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects employees 40 or older from “age discrimination.” Employers also can’t retaliate against a job applicant or employee who’s claiming ADEA rights. Generally, the list of employers the ADEA applies to is the same as Title VII, except the size threshold for private employers is bumped up from 15 to 20 employees.

This piece of legislation is particularly relevant now, as employers could be liable for treating older workers differently because they may be at higher risk of COVID-19 related complications.

Equal Pay Act

Under the Equal Pay Act (EPA), employers are required to compensate men and women equally for equal work. The jobs don’t have to be identical, but they must be “substantially equal.” The actual job — not its title or description — determines if jobs are substantially equal.

If a pay inequality exists, the employer can’t reduce the wages of either gender to equalize the pay. But the EPA is littered with exceptions. Significantly, an employer can choose to pay men and women different salaries for doing equal work if the difference is based on seniority, qualifications, incentives or other factors other than gender. So, it may be difficult for employees to recover damages for an alleged violation.

Generally, all employers must comply with the EPA. This includes private employers — regardless of size — labor unions, the federal government, and state and local governments.

Immigration Reform and Control Act

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) prevents employers from discriminating against applicants and employees according to citizenship or national origin. For IRCA, the size threshold for private employers is just four employees.

IRCA also makes it  illegal to knowingly hire or retain employees who are unauthorized to work in the United States. The law imposes strict requirements for examining employee documents and verifying that those individuals are legally authorized to work in the country. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is responsible for implementing this law.

Lessons Learned

EEOC chair Janet Dhillon recently said, “Amidst the challenges we are all facing during these uncertain times, the anti-discrimination laws the EEOC enforces are as vital as ever.” It’s important that both employers and employees are aware of the major points and guidelines surrounding federal anti-discrimination legislation, which can be found at EEOC website.