What is discrimination in the workplace?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act defines discrimination in the workplace. Title VII is a federal law and it addresses many different forms of discrimination in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces Title VII and most states also have laws that are similar to Title VII and their own state agencies that enforce those laws.
How does Title VII define discrimination in the workplace?
Under Title VII an employer cannot use race, color, religion, gender or national origin as the basis for hiring, firing, promotions, pay benefits, work assignments or basically any other aspect of the employment relationship.
How would a business commit discrimination under Title VII?
A business may commit discrimination in the workplace under Title VII in a variety of ways. It could overtly discriminate by, for example, instituting a policy where the business refuses to hire women because the employer thinks that women have no place in the office. But few employers commit such brazen discrimination. More commonly discrimination occurs where a company happens to always pass over Latin Americans for management positions. This action may be part of a policy, or it may not be. In fact, it may be accidental, but it may look like discrimination in the workplace from the outside. Therefore a company who commits such actions may be subjecting themselves to a potential discrimination lawsuit.
A business may also be subject to a discrimination lawsuit if it has a policy that appears to be neutral but ends up having a discriminatory impact upon a group of people. For example, if the employer runs an office suite and has a requirement that all office workers be able to carry up to fifty pounds and this requirement results in almost no women being hired for the job. Such a requirement would be indirect discrimination because the rule serves no business purpose, yet it results in women being unfairly impacted.
How to protect your business from a discrimination lawsuit
The best way to protect your business from a discrimination lawsuit is to make sure that each and every decision you make in regards to employees is done for a legitimate business reason. Certain forms of discrimination are allowed if they directly relate to performing the job tasks. So, as an employer, do not make a decision unless it is backed up by a business motive.
Other forms of discrimination in the workplace
Other federal laws exist which prohibit discrimination based upon a person’s age and upon a person’s disability. These laws come with their own special sets of rules and should be understood and researched together with Title VII. Additionally, states may have additional laws that protect classes of people that are unprotected by Title VII or the federal laws. Thus an employer should be sure to check with a local attorney to make sure that they are in compliance with all of the anti-discrimination laws that may apply to them.
 Fred S. Steingold, The Employer’s Legal Handbook: Manage your Employees and Workplace Effectively 156-160 (Alayna Schroeder ed., Nolo 9th ed. 2009).