Employment Law – Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace

Employment law covering discrimination and harassment in the workplace is an evolving legal area that encompasses laws and regulations designed to prohibit unfair treatment or behavior at work, such as racism, sexual harassment or ageism. When employees experience unlawful treatment in these areas, employment law protects them from retaliation or damages.

State and federal employment laws make it unlawful to discriminate in hiring, firing, promotions, pay, and terms or conditions of employment based on race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy), national origin (for employees over 40), disability or genetic information. Furthermore, such laws prohibit an employer from denying an employee or job applicant benefits such as vacation and sick leave leave, insurance plans, retirement programs, pay raises or the opportunity to work part time.

Discrimination takes many forms and is not always intentional. It is also illegal for policies or practices which seem neutral but have the effect of singling out a group for unequal treatment – examples being:

Harassment refers to any unwanted conduct that makes an employee or job applicant uncomfortable, harassed or threatened. Harassment may occur on account of race, gender, religion, sex, family medical history (including genetic information), arrest record ( including conviction records), political affiliation, military service commitment or status as parent or spouse – or for other attributes so severe or pervasive that it interferes with performing one’s job properly.

Harassment in the workplace could include, for instance, one male co-worker making sexual jokes, making sexual advances and showing nude posters around the office, or another repeatedly asking female workers out on dates by their supervisor – acts that create an uncomfortable working environment and are insufficiently tolerated by management.

Retaliating against employees who engage in protected activity, such as lodging a discrimination or harassment complaint, reporting illegal workplace activities to authorities, cooperating with investigations or lawsuits against such conduct, or initiating legal proceedings is illegal and is in violation of New York’s Human Rights Law and Civil Rights Act.

If you believe you have been subjected to discrimination, harassment or retaliation at work, contact an attorney immediately. Do not sign any documents that would waive your rights or require you to arbitrate disputes with an employer. If you suspect your employer of engaging in illegal acts, never sign a confidentiality agreement without first consulting an attorney first. Instead, file a formal complaint with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state agency as soon as possible. Depending on your case, you may be eligible for back pay, lost earnings and/or punitive damages. Hiring an experienced employment attorney is critical – search online or ask someone who knows about your situation for recommendations of qualified legal practitioners.

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