Workplace discrimination occurs when an individual is treated differently when applying for a job, or while at his job, as a result of his protected status. In the United States, workplace discrimination is illegal; this means that a person cannot be treated differently on the basis of certain qualifications, such as race, gender, national origin, color, age, or disability. Various federal and state laws within the United States make discrimination in the workplace illegal.
Not all types of workplace discrimination are prohibited by law. For example, it is not illegal to discriminate against or treat someone differently on the basis of his being physically unattractive or on the basis of his living in the wrong neighborhood. Discrimination is prohibited by law only on the basis of certain specific traits and qualifications. These qualifications, therefore, are considered to have protected status. That means if someone is a female, she cannot be discriminated against on the basis of being female because her femaleness puts her in a protected class.
Different civil rights laws within the United States prohibit different types of workplace discrimination and create different protected classes. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender or religion. The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to discriminate against a disabled individual and mandates that employers make reasonable accommodations to allow a disabled person to work. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects workers over the age of 40 from being fired or otherwise treated differently on the basis of their age.
Workplace discrimination under these laws involves a broad category of prohibited behavior. The laws stipulate that an employer cannot discriminate in the hiring, firing or terms and conditions of employment. This means that an employer cannot refuse to hire someone solely on the basis of his age, or other protected classification. He also cannot make firing decisions based on the protected status of an individual. In addition, he cannot promote or refuse to promote someone, provide or limit benefits, or otherwise hinder or help a person in any way at his job on the basis of gender or race or other protected status. It is also illegal for a company to permit a hostile environment to be created; for example, an employer cannot permit someone to be made uncomfortable by racial jokes occurring at the workplace.