Worker Discrimination and Worker Rights
What are my rights as a worker?
Every worker in the United States has rights guaranteed to them by the government. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees. Employers and labor unions have a special role in guarding against unlawful workplace discrimination.
How is employment discrimination defined?
Federal law prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, gender, pregnancy, sexual harassment, age, disability, national origin, religion or retaliation.
- Affiliation: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because an individual is affiliated with a particular religious or ethnic group. For example, harassing an individual because she is Arab or practices Islam, or paying an employee less because she is Middle Eastern.
- Physical or cultural traits and clothing: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because of physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics, such as accent or dress associated with a particular religion, ethnicity, or country of origin. For example, harassing a woman wearing a hijab (a body covering and/or head-scarf worn by some Muslims), or not hiring a man with a dark complexion and an accent believed to be Arab.
- Perception: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because of the perception or belief that a person is a member of a particular racial, national origin, or religious group whether or not that perception is correct. For example, failing to hire a Hispanic person because the hiring official believed that he was from Pakistan, or harassing a Sikh man wearing a turban because the harasser thought he was Muslim.
- Association: Harassing or otherwise discriminating because of an individual's association with a person or organization of a particular religion or ethnicity. For example, harassing an employee whose husband is from Afghanistan, or refusing to promote an employee because he attends a Mosque.
What are the responsibilities of employers?
Employers must provide a workplace that is free of harassment. They may be liable not only for harassment by supervisors, but also by coworkers or by non-employees under their control. Employers should clearly communicate to all employees- through a written policy or other appropriate mechanism- that harassment is prohibited and that employees must respect the rights of their coworkers. An employer also should have effective and clearly communicated policies and procedures for addressing complaints of harassment and should train managers on how to identify and respond effectively to harassment even in the absence of a complaint.
Employers must reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer. Some reasonable religious accommodations that employers may be required to provide workers include leave for religious observances, time and/or place to pray, and ability to wear religious garb.
How do I reduce the chances of discrimination at work?
- Know your rights at work.
- Identify who is responsible for worker's rights at your workplace. Get to know that person.
- Review all policy and procedure manuals.
- Talk with your employer.
- Do not sign anything you do not understand. Ask for clarification or for a translation.
What can I do if I have experienced discrimination at work?
- Document what happened. Keep a journal at home. Write down specific details regarding the situation. Be sure to write down the names of witnesses.
- Report what is happening to your direct supervisor and to the human resources department. If possible, submit a written description of the incident to be placed in your personnel file.
- Save all documents or correspondence from your employer (i.e. Written letters of suspension).
- Seek help from a qualified advocate who is an expert in discrimination law. See the resources below.
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National Employment Law Project has a list of extensive resources for immigrant workers
Northwest Workers' Justice Project is an organization working to improve workplace conditions through organizing immigrant workers
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency in charge of enforcement of the federal civil rights laws, including employment discrimination
Office of Civil Rights is a federal agency that enforces federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination. This link includes how to contact your local field office and information on how to file a complaint.