If you are wondering whether you face illegal discrimination at work, you must first become familiar with the different categories of employment discrimination.
The categories of protected characteristics are important because if you are discriminated against for any other reason, you may not be able to bring a valid claim under the law.
For example, your employer can give a raise to someone else based purely on jealousy, personality, or just because the employer does not like you. Only when the employer bases employment decisions on protected characteristics or activities does the employer venture into illegal discrimination.
So which characteristics and activities are considered "protected"?
Under federal law, protected characteristics and activities generally consist of the following:
- Age. Workers age 40 or older are protected from discrimination. Note that workers under 40 are not protected.
- Disability. You'll need a doctor's note confirming any physical or mental disabilities. Your employer not only is prohibited from taking negative action against you, but may also have to be proactive and accommodate your disability such as providing time off from work.
- Genetic Information. This is the newest category of discrimination. Employers cannot deny insurance or take other negative action against employees because of genetics, such as a genetic condition that makes you more susceptible to illness.
- National Origin. What country are you originally from? Well, it shouldn't matter when making employment decisions.
- Race. You should already know that employer cannot base decisions on the color of your skin.
- Religion. Along with disability discrimination, religious discrimination is the only other characteristic that requires employers to accommodate employees. So if your religion recognizes a bona fide religious holiday, you may be entitled to time off.
- Sex. This includes discrimination against both men and women. This also covers discrimination against pregnant women.
- Retaliation. The simple act of complaining about discrimination is a protected activity. So if employers threaten to fire you or otherwise retaliate against you for filing a complaint, they may be violating the law. This is the most common reason for pursuing an employment discrimination complaint.
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