Employment discrimination happens often enough that you probably know someone whose previous job was a nightmare because of harassment or other discriminatory behaviors. In some cases, the red flags were there even at the first job interview, but in other cases, the problems only emerge after the employee marries, requests an accommodation for a pre-existing or newly diagnosed disability, or complains to human resources about harassment by a colleague. Employment discrimination is not always as overt as it appears in the movies. Even if none of your co-workers seem to notice the harassment or other unfair treatment you are enduring at work, and even if your supervisors threaten to make things worse for you if you complain, the law is still on your side. The first step to standing up to your right to a discrimination-free workplace is to contact the Alabama employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
What is a Protected Category, According to Federal Employment Discrimination Laws?
Employment discrimination laws apply to racial discrimination and gender discrimination, but that is not all. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the federal law that defines employment discrimination and forbids employers from discriminating against employees and job candidates. Over the years, additional federal laws and amendments have expanded and more clearly delineated the protected categories on the basis of which employers are forbidden to discriminate against employees. As of 2021, it is against federal law for employers to discriminate against employees and job candidates on the basis of any of these protected characteristics:
- Race, color, national origin, or ethnicity
- Immigration status, as long as the candidate has an immigration status that authorizes them to work in the United States (exceptions apply for some public sector jobs that are open to U.S. citizens only or to U.S. citizens and permanent residents)
- Sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender presentation
- Marital status, pregnancy, parenthood, or plans to have children in the future
- Disability, whether temporary or permanent and whether visible or invisible
- Age, if the employee is at least 40 years old
- Religion, religious denomination, or lack of adherence to an organized religion
Under the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the definition of “disability” is even broader than it is in other laws relating to disabilities. Any medical condition, even if it does not present a big enough impairment to fit the usual definition of a disability, counts as a disability if an employer takes adverse action against an employee because of it.
What Does Employment Discrimination Look Like?
Just as the protected categories under which employees have the legal right to be free from discrimination are many, so are the forms that discrimination can take. These are just some of the manifestations of employment discrimination, with examples of each:
- Refusal to hire – An employer hires almost all White employees, although the pool of job applicants includes people of all backgrounds.
- Denial of promotions – When a group of employees becomes eligible for a pay raise, the employer grants raises to the men and the childless women, but not to the women who have become mothers since the last time they were eligible for a pay raise.
- Unlawful termination of employment – The employer announces a “corporate restructuring,” in which the company terminates the positions of the three Black employees but does not terminate the positions of any of the 17 White employees.
- Hostile work environment, also known as harassment – Employees call an Asian-American employee by a derogatory nickname, repeat racist jokes from movies in the employee’s presence, and decorate their cubicles with anti-Asian caricatures.
- Retaliation – The employee in the above example complains to human resources about the behavior that her co-workers display toward her, and which her direct supervisor has done nothing to stop. When the employee’s contract is up for renewal, the employer does not renew it, and the reasons it gives for not renewing her contract are baseless. It is also retaliation if an employee who always received good annual performance evaluations when he was single suddenly gets a negative evaluation after attending the company Christmas party with his husband. When the employee appeals the evaluation, the employer terminates his employment.
What to Do if You Experience Discrimination in the Workplace
If employers simply stopped engaging in discriminatory behavior the minute employees notified them of it, the employment discrimination lawyers would not be very busy. Sometimes filing a complaint with the human resources office is all it takes to make employers correct their discriminatory actions; the employer realizes that there is a real possibility that the employee will take legal action against them, and the employer does not want to risk getting sued. More often, though, things get uglier when the employee complains.
If you are worried that the harassment or unfair treatment you are getting at work will get worse if you complain to your employer, you should contact an Alabama employment discrimination lawyer even before you confront your employer. Your lawyer will help you gather and organize the documentation you need to present an airtight case. Depending on your situation, the best move may be to try to work things out with your employer or go straight to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Alabama Employment Discrimination Laws
For most types of employment discrimination, Alabama does not have its own state laws separate from the federal law. The only state-specific employment discrimination law applies to age discrimination. According to Alabama law, employers may not discriminate against employees aged 40 or older on the basis of age. This law applies to companies with 20 or more employees.
Contact an Alabama Employment Discrimination Lawyer
Do not be intimidated if your employer threatens to fire you and ruin your future job prospects if you complain about job discrimination. The law protects workers from many kinds of employment discrimination, from retaliation and unfairly negative performance reviews to unfair termination of employment. Contact the Alabama employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to set up a consultation.