What Is Job Discrimination?

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Job discrimination refers to practices or actions by a company or its representatives that involve illegal and unfair treatment of job or promotion candidates, or current employees. People are protected by law from discrimination for factors such as age, gender and race.

Title VII Classifications

One of the first major laws to protect people from job discrimination was Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII specifically directed employers not to make hiring or promotion decisions based on a candidate's race, color, religion, sex or national origin. For example, if a company representative asks a female interview candidate, "Do you have any plans to have children soon?" they risk allegations of Title VII violations on the basis that male candidates wouldn't have to answer this question. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, is in charge of enforcing Title VII and other federal employment laws.

Other Job Discrimination Laws

Since Title VII, additional job discrimination laws have been enacted to expand the scope of protection. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects people ages 40 and older from age-related discrimination in employment decisions, while the Americans with Disabilities Act protects the legal rights of people with disabilities; in general, employers have to make reasonable accommodations to hire a highly qualified candidate with a disability.

Discrimination Exceptions

There are exceptions to the discrimination provisions in laws such as Title VII. Companies can apply for protected classifications in hiring or promotion decisions only when it is an essential requirement for job performance. In addition, a faith-based religious organization can typically hire someone who abides by or practices the religion with which the organization is affiliated. Though rare, companies may also make certain hiring decisions based on factors such as gender, age or race when it's necessary for the effective fulfillment of a particular role or position.

Read More: Unlawful Discrimination in the Workplace

Non-Discriminatory Factors

In addition to federal laws that define job discrimination, some states have additional laws that protect against discrimination for such factors as sexual orientation. Beyond factors covered by law, employees in at-will states typically can't claim job discrimination when termination decisions are made. A worker would have a difficult time making a job discrimination claim on the belief that he was fired because of his support of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, for example. Additionally, for an employee to claim discrimination in a job promotion decision because the employee is considered too emotional can be a challenge. However, most companies generally communicate clear policies, use objective and consistent hiring practices, and document their decisions to avoid allegations of job discrimination on the basis of protected factors.