The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination on the basis of race or religion, and since then, several other federal laws have expanded the list of characteristics based on which employers may not discriminate against workers. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 explicitly forbade discrimination against employees and job candidates on the basis of disability and also indicated that refusal to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability is a form of discrimination. North Carolina also has state laws that list additional protected characteristics. If you are experiencing workplace discrimination, or if you are wondering whether the poor treatment you are receiving at work legally counts as discrimination, contact the Charlotte employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Protected Categories Under Federal Law
Federal law has identified some characteristics based on which employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees, whether by refusing to hire them or by treating them unfairly once they have begun work. These characteristics are related either to the person’s body or to a group to which the person belongs; in other words, they are not related to the employee’s ability to do the job for which they are applying or for which they have been hired. The following characteristics are protected by federal workplace discrimination laws:
- Race, ethnicity, or skin color
- National origin
- Citizenship status
- Sex, gender identity, or gender presentation
- Marital status or sexual orientation
- Pregnancy, parenthood, or potential to become a parent
- Age (for employees age 40 and older)
- Genetic information
With regard to citizenship status, some public sector jobs are open only to United States citizens or to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Citizenship status is not the same as immigration status; when offering you a job, your employer should ask you to provide proof of eligibility to work in the United States. This could mean that you present a U.S. passport, U.S. birth certificate, permanent resident card (green card), or work permit.
With regard to disability, the employer may refuse to hire you if no reasonable accommodations are available that would enable you to do the job. If the employer requires a pre-employment skills test, you may use your accommodation during the test.
Protected Categories Under North Carolina Law
North Carolina law recognizes several additional protected categories besides the ones protected under federal law. These are the additional categories protected under North Carolina’s anti-discrimination laws:
- Current or previous military service\
- HIV status
- Hemoglobin C trait or sickle cell trait
- Lawful use of legal products when not at work
The protections for HIV status, hemoglobin C trait, and sickle cell trait aim to close a loophole in the protections for disabilities. Specifically, they protect employees with these medical conditions even if they are asymptomatic and have never had symptoms that would interfere with their ability to perform their job duties.
As for lawful use of legal products when not at work, an employer cannot discriminate against you for drinking alcohol when you are not at work as long as you are at least 21 years old and you do not drive while under the influence of alcohol. Your employer does have the right to take adverse action if you violate the employer’s alcohol policies at work. The same applies for cannabis, although North Carolina cannabis laws contain some gray areas, so it is a good idea to consult an employment lawyer if your employer takes adverse action against you for consuming cannabis outside of working hours.
Are Some Employers Exempt From Workplace Discrimination Laws?
The larger the employer, the more resources it has to recruit a diverse applicant pool and to provide accommodations for employees with disabilities. Therefore, the smallest businesses are exempt from most employment discrimination laws. (Consider that, if a business has two employees, and they are both white men, this is less evidence of discrimination than if a company has 100 employees and almost all of them are white men.) In general, businesses with 15 or more employees must follow the federal and state antidiscrimination laws. The following exceptions apply:
- Regardless of the number of employees, all employers must provide equal pay to men and women.
- Age discrimination laws apply only to businesses with 20 or more employees.
- Citizenship status discrimination laws apply to businesses with four employees or more.
What Does Workplace Discrimination Look Like?
Employment discrimination can take the form of an employer apparently giving priority to applicants who share a similar personal background to the owner of the company, but that is only one of many forms. These are some other common forms of workplace discrimination:
- Coworkers making racist jokes or derogatory remarks about a group to which you belong, even if those comments are not directed toward you
- Employers making unreasonable requests for you to change your hairstyle or other aspect of your personal appearance
- Prospective employers asking questions about your marital status or medical history during job interviews
- Refusal to make reasonable accommodations to allow employers to miss work for religious observances (such as a Catholic employee coming to work late after attending Mass on Ash Wednesday or a Muslim employee taking breaks at prayer times)
- Denying you a promotion after you requested a disability accommodation or returned from FMLA leave
Unfortunately, when you file a discrimination complaint, the fight is just beginning. Although the law prevents retaliation against employees who complain about discrimination, employers often go out of their way to make you look bad just to hide the fact that they were treating you in a discriminatory manner. You should contact an employment discrimination lawyer if things got ugly after you filed a discrimination complaint. You should also contact a lawyer if you have yet to speak up about workplace discrimination. Your lawyer can help you plan a strategy to help you access the appropriate remedies and protect yourself from retaliation.
Contact a North Carolina Employment Lawyer About Workplace Discrimination
It is not too soon to talk to an employment lawyer about workplace discrimination. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina to set up a consultation.