Every employer should know that non-discrimination laws exist at the local, state, and federal level, and they prohibit discrimination (including harassment) in employment, including hiring and termination practices, based on a variety of protected classes. Federal anti-discrimination laws protect applicants and employees from discrimination in employment based on race, color, age, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition, citizenship status, genetic information, national origin, religion, uniformed service member status, and disability. Most of the federal anti-discrimination laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cover private employers with 15 or more employees. State and local laws may apply to smaller employers.
Non-discrimination laws at the state and local level may include protected classes that are more expansive and vary between jurisdictions. For example, some states protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and even smoking. A handful of states have so called “reasonable accommodation provisions” on the subject of workplace drug testing, wherein businesses cannot take action against employees solely because they participate in a state’s medical marijuana program. Additionally employers in some states may need to be aware of laws that prohibit them from discriminating against an individual based on his or her height or weight.
While the majority of state anti-discrimination laws are enforced by state human rights agencies, local ordinances may be subject to enforcement by the applicable municipal government. Depending on the number of employees working for you and where those employees are working, you may need to comply with multiple non-discrimination laws. This is an area where changes can occur, and failure to comply with statutes and regulations concerning discrimination in the workplace can be a costly mistake.
Employers should review applicable anti-discrimination laws to ensure full compliance with posting and notice requirements and in some cases training requirements, particularly with regard to sexual harassment, a form of sex discrimination under federal law and many state laws.
Employers are encouraged to train supervisors and managers about applicable non-discrimination laws and to ensure employment decisions are based on job-related factors including work experience, level of education, and specific skills necessary to perform the position.