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Prohibited Employment Practices Part I – Protecting Employees


The federal anti-discrimination laws that are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) make it illegal for employers to create and implement employment policies or engage in practices that treat employees or applicants of a particular race, color, religion, sex, or national origin less favorably than others. The same is true for policies or practices that have that affect individuals with disabilities or individuals age 40 or older.

There may be exceptions when the policies and practices are job-related and necessary for business operations. This two-part blog post will first discuss examples of prohibited policies and practices that unlawfully discriminate against employees and then those that unlawfully discriminate against job applicants during the pre-employment stage.

Policies or Practices Regarding Employee Discipline

When employers make decisions regarding the discipline or termination of employees, they are not allowed to consider that person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. When two employees are accused of committing similar violations of company policy, the employer cannot discipline them differently based on those protected categories. The same is true when an employer is determining whether to terminate or lay off an employee. A common example of that is when employers lay off the oldest employees during a reduction in force.

Policies or Practices Regarding Pay and Benefits

It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees when it comes to compensation based on the protected categories identified in federal anti-discrimination statutes. Compensation includes hourly wages and salaries as well as benefits like insurance, sick leave, vacation leave, and retirement benefits.

Policies or Practices Regarding Job Assignments and Promotions

Employer decisions to promote employees or to assign job duties must not be based on an employee's race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. It is unlawful to give preferences to employees of a certain race, for example, when assigning shifts or to segregate employees based on national origin or ethnicity. It is likewise unlawful for employers to make assignment and promotion decisions based on stereotypes.

Apprenticeship or training opportunities are also protected from discrimination. In other words, it is unlawful for a training or apprenticeship program to discriminate on the basis of one of the protected categories. However, an employer may be allowed to set age limits for participation in apprenticeship programs if those limitations are legitimately job-related.

Providing References for Former Employees

Employers are prohibited from providing false or negative employment references for former employees because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. This includes refusing to provide a reference for a former employee on that basis.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724. We are here to serve you!

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