Your guide to antidiscrimination law

October 1, 2005

This article will cover the fundamentals of antidiscrimination statutes and the agencies that enforce them, headed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Without such knowledge, you risk running afoul of federal, state, and local rules that govern the workplace.

For starters, a little background: The best-known federal employment antidiscrimination statute, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits you from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, or religion and applies to businesses with 15 or more employees. That's the same number of employees you need to be subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, which forbids discrimination against people who are 40 or older, applies to employers with 20 or more workers.

Most states, counties, and municipalities, however, have laws that are similar to Title VII, the ADA, and the ADEA, and apply to businesses that have as few as one employee. Several of these statutes stipulate additional protected classes, such as homosexuals and welfare recipients. (To access your state's antidiscrimination laws and the government agency that monitors them, go to http:// http://www.workplacefairness.org/index.php?page=agencies.)

Some caveats:

Disabilities and religious practices

If you can accommodate an employee's religious practices without incurring undue hardship-that is, if it doesn't cost you money-you have to do so. For example, if an applicant for a transcriptionist job is an Orthodox Jew who has to leave work before sundown on Friday, but she's able to come in early to complete her work, you must allow her to (assuming she's otherwise qualified for the job). On the other hand, you're within your rights to deny her a job if you'd have to give unfinished transcriptions to an independent contractor, or otherwise have to spend money to get the work done on time.