Title VII Refresher

Beth Dean 10.17.23
2023-10-17 Nextep blog - Title VII

We’ve reported at length about preventing discrimination in the workplace. But let’s take a step back now and brush up on Title VII, the sweeping regulation that started it all. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. It applies to employers of 15 or more people and prohibits them from discriminating on the basis of: 

Race

Race-based discrimination refers to treating someone unfairly, such as an applicant or employee, due to their race or related physical characteristics like hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features. Harassment can include racial slurs, the display of racially insensitive symbols, and race-based segregation. It can cross a line and become illegal if it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or leads to negative employment consequences. It’s crucial to recognize the severity of these situations and take appropriate action to ensure a safe and respectful workplace.

As with the other categories, the harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Color

Discrimination based on color involves treating someone unfavorably based on their skin color complexion. Additionally, discrimination may occur if someone is treated unfairly because they’re associated with or married to a person who fits into any of these protected categories. 

Religion

Religious discrimination can occur if treating an employee or applicant unfavorably based on their sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs. An employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that allow an employee to practice his or her religion unless it would create a serious undue hardship, as recently ruled.

Examples of religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies or practices. Employers should also be careful that the company dress code doesn’t violate religious ideologies, such as a ban against wearing headscarves or yarmulkes.

Sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity)

As we reported a few months ago, pregnant workers are protected under two new laws, the PUMP Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). These regulations bolster the protections they already had under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Discrimination against sexual orientation is prohibited because it is sex-based and relies on stereotypes about whom people should be attracted to. Discrimination against gender identity or transgender employees is also sex-based and prohibited because it relies on employees to conform to gender norms. Check out our tips and tricks for avoiding sex-based discrimination at work!

National origin

Discriminating against individuals (whether they are applicants or employees) based on their national origin, citizenship, or immigration status is considered unfair treatment. This type of discrimination can take place due to their country of origin, accent, ethnicity, accent, or perceived ethnic background, regardless of whether it is accurate or not.

Discrimination can occur even if the alleged discriminating party is of the same national origin as the victim. Further, a workplace rule could be illegal if it has a negative impact on people based on national origin. For example, an English-only rule is only allowable if it is needed to ensure the safe or efficient operation of the employer’s business and is put in place for nondiscriminatory reasons.

Age (40 or older)

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and Title VII both forbid age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. Discrimination can occur even if the perpetrator is also over the age of 40.

It is important to recognize that harassment can take many forms, such as making offensive or derogatory comments about someone’s age. While minor teasing or isolated incidents may not be against the law, harassment becomes illegal when it becomes frequent or severe enough to create a hostile work environment or results in negative employment consequences, such as termination or demotion of the victim.

Disability

There are a number of regulations that protect employees and applicants with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Most recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance on handling employees with hearing or visual disabilities. 

Notably, there are three definitions of disability: “actual,” “record of,” or “regarded as”. An employer can be in violation of Title VII (and possibly a host of other regulations) if they take adverse action against an employee or applicant based on what they perceive to be a disability, even if the employee does not, in fact, have it.

Genetic information (including family medical history).

It is against the law to discriminate against employees or applicants based on genetic information, according to Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Genetic information includes genetic tests, family medical history, genetic service requests, clinical research participation, and genetic information about fetuses or embryos through assisted reproductive technology.

In short, an employer may never use genetic information to make an employment decision. GINA has several nuances – read the EEOC guidance to learn more.

Do you have questions about applying Title VII to your company? Contact your HR Business Partner at Nextep. We’re happy to help!

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