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Know The Federal Workplace Anti-Discrimination Rules

Individuals sitting in office with job application

Discrimination against employees or job applicants on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability is illegal. People in positions of authority are not allowed to take personal action against anyone because of these factors. Keep reading to better understand federal workplace anti-discrimination rules and why discrimination is prohibited in the United States.

Examples of discriminatory actions that are unlawful

Employment decisions cannot be based on factors such as the marital status or political affiliation of job candidates. Additionally, you cannot retaliate against employees or applicants who speak up in the face of wrongdoings. You cannot punish those who make complaints or appeals either.

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978

One of the U.S. laws that ensure employers adhere to anti-discrimination rules is the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. This law helps ensure employment decisions are fair and just. The CSRA is upheld and enforced by two agencies: the Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for enforcing laws that protect job applicants and employees from workplace discrimination. It’s against the law for any business to treat someone unfairly based on their race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetics or sex, including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy status. The EEOC also makes sure everyone has an equal opportunity in the workplace void of discriminatory practices.

Examples of illegal workplace discrimination

It is illegal to retaliate against someone who has taken action against discrimination in the workplace. Whether they filed charges in the context of discrimination or they participated in a discrimination investigation pertaining to harassment at work, it is unlawful to punish them for speaking out against discrimination they have endured. This will only worsen the situation for you as an employer.

You might believe that you have neutral employment policies and practices. However, they could still disproportionately and negatively affect people of a particular race, religion, sex, national origin or age unbeknownst to you. That’s why it is imperative to ensure that your workplace procedures are in compliance with federal laws.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that creating job advertisements that seek to favor a certain group of people while discouraging other applicants from applying is against the law. Similarly, you are not right for making hiring decisions that are influenced by stereotypes or assumptions pertaining to specific characteristics.

As a rule of thumb, in all aspects of employment, it is legally prohibited to discriminate. This applies when reviewing job referrals, assigning tasks, promoting employees, paying workers, offering benefits, implementing disciplinary actions and terminating individuals.

When providing employment references, you are required to remain unbiased. Base your input solely on the merits of candidates rather than personal identifying factors such as race, age or nationality. Matters like these must be approached diligently and with seriousness, not taken lightly.

Harassing someone based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability or age is completely unacceptable. That’s why federal law strictly prohibits this behavior. Retaliation against individuals who file discrimination charges, participate in investigations or speak out against discriminatory practices is also not allowed. At BCN, our HR experts work to ensure that every aspect of employment, no matter how minor, is free from discrimination.

During the hiring process, it is crucial that you avoid asking candidates questions about their height, weight, unemployment status, race, sex or other personal characteristics that are protected. The only time it is appropriate to pose questions of this nature is in situations where there is a legitimate business-related reason for doing so.

At the end of the day, the words and phrases we use matter. They hold weight and significance. That’s why culturally sensitive language is important to utilize. It can have a significantly long-lasting impact on the people you come across.

Similarly, it is essential to actively avoid practices that perpetuate harm or offense toward certain groups of people. Make an effort to always replace harmful language and practices with more inclusive options. Also, strive to eliminate policies that promote discrimination in any way. By adhering to these principles, you can foster a workplace that is respectful, fair and thoroughly inclusive for all your employees.

It is important to note that a manager may not fire, demote, harass or otherwise “retaliate” against an individual for filing a complaint of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposing discrimination (EEOC). Our team works to ensure that all employers are aware of their legal obligation to provide a work environment free from retaliation. At BCN Services, we are also here to assist employers in creating workplaces that are free from discrimination based on their race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetics or sex, including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy status.

Has your organization faced a situation similar to one of the examples below?

An employee has been working for a company for over five years and is on path for a promotion. At lunch, her manager casually asks about her plans for the future. Anne mentions that she wants to focus on her career right now. However, she does want to start a family at some point in the next few months. A week later, she is told that her responsibilities within the organization will be changing and there doesn’t seem to be an opening for a promotion anytime soon. 

An employer cannot discriminate based on gender or based on the fact that she may become pregnant in the near future. 

An employee has mixed Chinese and Indian ancestry. He decides to apply for a position at a local hotel. After a few months on the job, he meets with his supervisor to discuss moving to the receptionist role. His manager states “I’m not sure you have the right ‘phone voice’ to run the front desk.”  Even though the employee is qualified for the job, the hotel manager refuses to consider him for the position due to his accent and what guests might think.  

An employer must show a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the employment action taken or denied because of an individual’s accent or manner of speaking. It is unlawful to discriminate against an employee because of the individual’s birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group. 

An employer decides to restructure an employee’s job description based on an assumed disability and without having a discussion with him. 

It is illegal for an employer to take any adverse or negative action against a worker based on a real or assumed disability. The employer needs to enter into the interactive process with the employee and not assume that the only way to accommodate them is to eliminate an essential function of the job. 

An employee works in an attorney’s office consisting of fifteen men and one woman. The female employee not only attended an Ivy League school for her degree but has more qualifications to handle cases than her co-workers. No matter how many cases she wins or great ideas she brings to the table, she is always given less of a voice and denied the opportunity to take on clients. Her male co-workers even place her in charge of lunch-duty for their weekly meetings.  

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits an employer from treating employees differently, or less favorably, because of their sex, which is defined to include pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity. 

An employee is married to a disabled spouse and is passed over when it comes to hiring a new supervisor. The decision maker believes that the employee cannot devote adequate time to the job due to the disabled family member.  

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee because someone the employee is related to or has an association with is disabled. 


If you have any questions or would like more information about Federal Workplace Anti-Discrimination Rules, contact your HR specialists at BCN Services.