Employment discrimination is an illegal, but unfortunately still frequent, practice that American workers face today. Employers are bound by law not to discriminate against or mistreat employees based on certain protected class statuses, like race, nationality, disability, sex or gender, and age, but some employers will do it anyway.
This particular labor law violation can be tricky to prove, however, which may make it hard for people to get proper justice after being unlawfully discriminated against. Knowing more about your rights and how to address the issues when those rights are violated could be essential to keeping your workplace protections intact.
All 50 states have what’s known as “at-will employment,” though some states have more specific rules than others. This essentially means either the employer or the employee can usually terminate the working relationship at any time for nearly any reason, barring some contractual obligations and certain state or federal rules.
Discrimination is one of the rule-breaking exceptions to at-will employment. Employers cannot, for example:
Employers are also barred from retaliating against employees who file complaints about discrimination.
The nature of most states’ at-will employment laws can make proving discrimination difficult. An employer can’t tell an employee that the employee is being fired for having a protected disability, but they can fire an employee with a disability and say that it’s for a different reason. Determining whether or not the true reason was related to the disability can be a complicated court issue.
If you suspect that you’re being treated unfairly in your workplace because of a protected-class status, you should try to gather evidence of the misconduct. Save emails and other messages on a personal account or a flash drive. Talk to trusted coworkers to get a corroborating account if they’re around to witness any actions or remarks. Document the times, locations, and the witnesses who were present during actions that make you suspect discrimination. Keep a copy of this information somewhere secure that your employer can’t access.
Review your company handbook. In most workplaces, your next step would be to present your documented evidence to your Human Resources Department and file a complaint. It’s still a good idea at this stage to keep copies of your documentation instead of handing it all over to someone in the company.
If your Human Resources Department doesn’t help address the issue, or if the whole work environment is so toxic that you don’t feel safe trying to handle it internally, you may want to meet with an employment discrimination attorney.
A lawyer with experience in this area of law may be able to help you analyze your case and look for sufficient evidence that discrimination has taken place. A lawyer could also help you assess the strength of your case, help you build that case, and represent you if the case goes to trial. You could potentially collect monetary compensation from your employer for discrimination. Depending on the size of the company, you might win tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars.
It’s important to note that these laws don’t apply universally. Some small companies, usually those that employ fewer than 15 people, may be exempt from certain employment laws. Talking to an employment discrimination lawyer can help you understand the laws that apply to you so you can figure out your bet course of action for addressing workplace discrimination.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified employment discrimination lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local employment discrimination attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.
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