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What is Employment Discrimination?

There are several ways in which employers can discriminate against job applicants and employees, including denying you a job based on your race, or paying you less money because of your country of origin.

In 2012 there were nearly 100,000 employment discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Below you’ll learn about some of the main types of employment discrimination and the resources you need to file a complaint.

Discrimination by Race or Color

Race discrimination occurs when an employer treats you unfavorably because of your race. Specifically, employers cannot:

  • Deny you employment or harass you at work because of your racial characteristics, including your skin color, facial features, hair type, etc.
  • Segregate you from other employees or not allow you to have contact with customers.
  • Ask for personal information during a job interview that might reveal your race, and then use this information to deny you employment.

Sex-based Discrimination

It is illegal to discriminate against you based on your sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Examples of this type of discrimination include:

  • Sexual harassment at work, including unwelcome sexual advances or sexual favors.
  • Offensive remarks about someone’s sex or gender identity.
  • Unfavorable treatment of women who are pregnant.

Disability Discrimination

People with disabilities have protections under federal laws and cannot be treated unfavorably in the workplace. This includes employees who have a family member with a disability. When it comes to disability discrimination:

  • Employers cannot ask you whether you have a physical or mental disability. They can only ask if you are able to perform a certain job.
  • Companies must make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

Age Discrimination

The law protects both job applicants and employees who are of age 40 or older from discrimination at work. For example, employers cannot:

  • Advertise age preferences of applicants in job postings.
  • Ask about your age during a job interview unless it was made for a lawful purpose.

Discrimination by National Origin

People born abroad who have authorization to work in the United States have the same rights and opportunities as everybody else. Employers cannot:

  • Fire, suspend or deny you employment to because of where you were born.
  • Treat you unfavorably because of your foreign accent or your ability to speak English.
  • Mandate you to speak English only at work (unless it’s done for non-discriminatory purposes).

The EEOC has a full list of discrimination practices by type. Visit EEOC.gov to learn how to file an employment discrimination claim. You typically have 180 days to file a complaint, but you may have more time depending on your state and local laws.

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