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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Under this law, companies employing 15 or more individuals are prevented from discriminating in the areas of:

  • Hiring and firing;
  • Compensation and promotion;
  • Transfer or layoff;
  • Job advertisements and recruitment;
  • Testing;
  • Training and apprenticeship programs;
  • Use of company facilities;
  • Fringe benefits, retirement plans, and disability leave.

Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Illegal discrimination is further prohibited by the following amendments to Title VII, which are monitored by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) requires that an employer pay all employees equally for equal work, regardless of gender. The law covers situations where men and women perform jobs that require equal skill, effort, and responsibility. The exception to this law is a pay system which is based on a factor other than gender, such as seniority, or the quantity or quality of items produced or processed. Thus, Mavis cannot he hired as a reservations agent at a base rate lower or higher than that of Richard who was hired 2 months earlier. However, Mavis can be hired at a base rate lower than that of Francisco, who has been a ticket agent for five years and has received annual salary increases in return for five years of service to the company.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 protects persons 40 years of age or older from discriminatory practices in hiring, firing, promotions, pay, and reduction in pension benefits.

The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 was established to discourage employers from targeting older workers for staff-cutting programs. It prohibits employers from requiring employees who accept a severance pay package, or an early retirement plan, to sign away their rights to pursue legal action against age-based discrimination.

The Pregnancy Act prohibits employers from refusing to hire a pregnant woman, terminating her employment on the basis of her pregnancy, or forcing her to take a maternity leave. The law also requires that a pregnant woman be allowed the same medical leave rights available to other employees for medical conditions. An employer may not refuse to provide health care insurance benefits for pregnancy, if such insurance is provided for other medical conditions.

While Title VII forbids an employer from refusing to grant men the same child-care leave rights as women, experts report that only 8% of U.S. companies offer the same option to male employees. Individual states, however, have specific laws regarding parental rights for childbirth, adoption, and parental-responsibility leaves. The prudent employer will investigate such specific state laws either through the local library or in recommended resources.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enacted on July 26, 1992, prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals who are defined as persons "with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." While job applicants may not be questioned about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability, they may be asked about their ability to perform specific Job functions.

Medical examinations may be a condition of employment, but only if all entering employees in the same category are requested to submit to the same exams. Likewise, medical examinations of current employees must be job related and consistent with the employer's business needs. The ADA does not cover employees or applicants who are currently using illegal drugs. Tests for illegal use of drugs are not subject to the ADA's restrictions on medical examinations.

Often Overlooked Applications of Title VII

Several other applications of Title VII may be unknown to employers:

An employer is required to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee through flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and lateral transfers, unless to do so would create undue hardship(s) on the employer.

An employee whose religious practices prohibit payment of union dues to a labor organization cannot be required to pay the dues, but may pay an equal sum to a charitable organization.

Pregnant employees must he permitted to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs. They may not be prohibited from returning to work for a predetermined length of time after childbirth.

Leave for child care must be granted on the same basis as leave granted to employees for other non-medical reasons, such as non job-related travel or education.

English-only rules in the workplace may constitute illegal discrimination unless an employer can demonstrate that such a practice is necessary for conducting business. In such a situation, employees have to be told when they must speak English and the consequences for violating the rule.

An "eligible small business" can receive a 50% tax credit for expenditures exceeding $250, but not in excess of $10,250, if those expenses are incurred in order to modify existing environments to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Informing Employees of EEOC Regulations

An employer is expected to post notices describing the federal laws prohibiting job discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, and disability, and describing the provisions of the Equal Pay Act. The EEOC provides a poster summarizing the laws and procedures for filing a complaint. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs 1801 L St., NW Washington, DC 20507 (800) 669-3362 or (202) 663-4900, provides posters and feet sheets on discrimination law.