Understanding Discrimination Protections and Retaliation Protections

We the People

Am I Protected From Workplace Discrimination?

Several different laws provide protection from discrimination in the workplace. The laws vary because different groups, or bases, received protection at different times based on political will in this country. Some bases are well known, like race and sex. Others are not as known like genetic information.

The most common protected groups include:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy
  • Retaliation – Color
  • National Origin
  • Age
  • Genetic Information
  • Disability

The earliest law passed was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act provides protection for decisions or harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Age was protected three years later in when the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) was passed in 1967. The ADEA only protects individuals who are 40 years or older. However, the State of Florida protects persons of all age from discrimination under the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992. Pregnancy became protected in 1978.

Surprisingly disability was not protected until 1990, when Congress passed the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Disabled persons were now protected from arbitrary employment decisions based on their impairments. Also, disabled persons were able to receive reasonable accommodations at work under the law. Disability protections were strengthened in 2008 when the ADA was amended. Prior to the amendments, only persons with the most severe impairments were found to be disabled by the courts. In the amendments, Congress instructed the courts that it intended for more Americans to be covered by the Act.

The newest basis protected is genetic information. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (“GINA”) protects persons from employment decisions based on their genetic information. The EEOC has seen 245 cases filed in 2011 under GINA, a small figure. This law may seem unnecessary now, but in the near future science will make genetic testing cheaper and more widespread. GINA protects against employers making hiring, firing, and health insurance decisions based on a person’s genetic makeup and potential future health.

Retaliation protections are built into each of the laws discussed above. The retaliation provision allows for discrimination protections to be enforced by protecting those who complain and who participate in the investigation of discrimination complaints. Unlike the other bases where everyone belongs to a protected class (such as race), an employee must take an action to be covered under the retaliation provision. This is known as engaging in a protected activity. A person engages in a protected activity when he or she files a discrimination complaint or participates in a discrimination investigation.

Some groups, such as sexual preference, are not protected by Federal or State laws at this time. However, some local governments have passed ordinances protecting these groups. Because local ordinances vary greatly between geographic locations, no generalities can be made about the protections they provide.

As you can see, many groups are protected under different laws. Because of the diversity of the laws, the protections and processes each law affords vary. Different laws have different rules and time restrictions of when you can exercise your rights. Call John Bales Attorneys to protect YOUR rights.

How Retaliation Protections Differ from Discrimination

Employees are protected from employer actions taken against them based on race, gender, religion, disability, age, and even genetic information. These protections are important, but are of little use if an employer could retaliate against employees who exercise those rights and complain. Fortunately, most civil rights laws protect employees that engage in a protected activity, including the Civil Rights Act, the American with Disabilities Act, and the AADA.

But what is a protected activity? Protected activities vary from an employee directly telling the harasser or decision maker that they are being harassed based on a covered basis, to a coworker who is participating in an investigation involving discrimination.

Retaliation provisions are introduced civil rights laws to strengthen their enforcement. Without the promise of legal action for being fired for coming forward, there would be little incentive for an employee to complain. Fortunately, most retaliation provisions cover not only the person complaining, but other employees who participate in the investigation that usually follow the complaint.

Since there are different laws covering the different protected classes, the definition of a protected activity varies. The only way to make sure you are protected is to seek the advice of an attorney. Call John.