What are my work place rights?

Americans can thank Dr. Martin Luther King for his work and efforts in securing their work place rights.  Dr. King raised awareness and put political pressure on members of Congress to protect individuals from discrimination and provide equal work place rights.

Dr. King speaking with the President

Dr. King speaking with the President

During the early sixties, there were four landmark pieces of legislation that were passed:

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965
  • Fair Housing Act

In regards to work place rights, the Civil Rights Act created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce federal laws prohibiting race and sex discrimination in employment.

Here is a quick look at the Act and an employee’s work place rights:

What is the law?

The ultimate purpose of Title VII of the Act is to “eliminate discriminatory practices in employment.”  NC Dept. of Corr. v. Gibson, 308 N.C. 131 (1983).  Initially the Civil Rights Act bans discrimination on account of race, religion, sex or national origin.

Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the work place

Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the work place

The Act has been supplemented by additional acts, and an employer cannot discriminate based on:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex (which also includes sexual harassment)
  • National Origin
  • Pregnancy (enacted by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act)
  • Age (enacted by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act)
  • Disability (enacted by the Americans with Disability Act)

(Note: there are other federal laws the provide work place rights, such as protection from retaliation due to whistleblowing, protection for filing a workers’ compensation claim, etc.  These laws are not addressed in this article.)

Title VII also prohibits discrimination against an individual because of his or her association with another individual of a particular race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, such as by an interracial marriage.

Who is protected?

The EEOC enforces federal anti-discrimination laws against employers that have more than 15 or more employees.  The EEOC enforces that Age Discrimination in Employment Act against employers that have 20 or more employees.

If my work place rights have been violated, what can I do?

First, before heading to the courthouse, check to see if your employer has a complaint or grievance policy.  In certain cases, it is mandatory that an employee first go through the employer’s administrative process before filing a lawsuit.

As a practical matter, an employee should document every conversation or email.  Employment disputes are heavily fact oriented, and it not uncommon for there to be a dispute over the facts.

Contact the EEOC or consult an attorney?

Although Dr. King has passed, his dream of ensuring equal rights for all employees lives on.  The law is constantly changing. (e.g. North Carolina Legislation on HB2).  If you believe that your work place rights have been violated, you can contact the EEOC and request that they investigate the claim, or contact my office in order to address whether your rights have been violated.