Women in the workplace are protected against gender-based discrimination under federal laws enforced by the U.S. Employment Equal Opportunity Commission. Employer discrimination comes in many forms; women face sexual harassment problems, differences in pay for doing the same job as a man, and being held back from training that would allow her to advance. The results of an employer violating such laws include paying fines and back pay to employees, a company culture with low morale, loss in productivity, high employee turnover and, ultimately, loss of revenue.
For women thinking about having children, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was created so employers cannot fire, intentionally not hire, demote or discriminate against a pregnant woman. She is entitled to the same work-related benefits as everyone else, including keeping fringe and medical benefits, training opportunities and special work provisions due to medical disability. In addition, she is allowed 12 weeks of workplace leave by the Family and Medical Leave Act after giving birth or adopting a child.
Woman earn on average only 80 percent of what men earn, according to a 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Labor. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 protects women who perform the same job as a man from receiving lower pay, if the job requires equal skill and responsibility. However, it wasn't until President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 that the statute of limitations no longer comes into play when suing employers for unequal pay. Before 2009, women only had 180 days after receiving their first paycheck to file a claim of unequal pay for doing the same work as a man. Since 1996, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has been introducing the Fair Pay Act to Congress, which would mandate companies disclose pay scales and rates to all employees.
Discriminating against a woman because she appears less capable than a man is prohibited by Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It's against the law to withhold career advancement opportunities or training from a woman, such as keeping an administrative warehouse worker from being promoted to a higher paying but physically demanding job for fear that the woman will be weaker or slower. In addition, if a qualified disabled worker requires a modified scheduled due to doctor's appointments or a woman with a learning disability needs additional materials or equipment to help get her job done, an employer is expected to make the necessary accommodations within reason, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Women are legally protected against discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that an employee cannot be treated differently because of gender. An example of this is promoting a particular female over another simply because her looks might attract more business. Sexual discrimination also includes creating a hostile work environment through sexually charged comments, teasing, physical harassment or asking for sexual favors in exchange for a promotion.
Any woman who feels discriminated against should document her findings with dates, names and details, and immediately contact human resources. It's also a good idea to gather evidence of good performance reviews to be used as proof that the issue could be discrimination and not performance related. Contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate the claim is the next step. If the EEOC does not find any wrong-doing on the company's part, it will close the case. The female employee then has 90 days to bring legal action on her own.
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Sex-Based Discrimination
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions and Answers
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978
- U.S. Department of Labor: Family and Medical Leave Act
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: The Equal Pay Act of 1963
- U.S. Department of Labor: Employment Status of Women and Men in 2008
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