What Laws Relate to Antidiscrimination in the Workplace?

No employer wants to be accused of discrimination. Employers strive to treat employees fairly and act without improper bias. To do this and also remain in legal compliance, it’s more important than ever to understand the various laws that protect employees from different types of discrimination.

Here are the primary U.S. laws at the federal level that have antidiscrimination components. (Note: This article focuses on the laws that apply to private employers and does not distinguish which also apply to government entities. There are additional laws pertaining to antidiscrimination for government employees.)

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII). This is the first law most people think of when it comes to antidiscrimination. Title VII protects employees and applicants from discrimination based on gender, religion, color, national origin, or race. It also makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who take protected actions. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The ADEA states that employers cannot discriminate against individuals over 40 years old in employment decisions or in any terms or conditions of employment. It applies to employers with at least 20 employees.
  • Equal Pay Act. The Equal Pay act states that men and women who perform equal work at the same employer should receive equal pay, as long as the jobs they perform are completed under similar conditions and require equal skills, responsibilities, and effort. The job titles do not have to be an exact match for the rules to apply. This act applies to all employers.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) This act states that employers cannot discriminate against qualified individuals who are disabled. It includes those with a history of being disabled or who are perceived as disabled, even if this is an incorrect perception. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This act is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act. This amendment takes the prohibition of discrimination based on gender a step further and specifically prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical conditions. As a part of the Civil Rights Act, it also applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).GINA prohibits employers from asking employees for genetic information or requiring them to provide it. It also says that any genetic information obtained (even inadvertently) must be kept confidential and cannot be used in employment decisions. It applies to employers with at least 15 employees.
  • Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). This act states that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of citizenship or national origin. It also makes it illegal for employers to knowingly employ workers who are not authorized to work in the United States. It applies to employers with at least 4 employees.

This list is not intended to be fully comprehensive; it simply contains the laws that are most commonly cited and enforced pertaining to antidiscrimination. Employers should also note that some state laws provide further protection than these federal laws. Always check local laws and confer with employment counsel with questions. (This article does not constitute legal advice.)

About Bridget Miller:

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.