The average American spends about a quarter of their adult life working. You want work that allows you to provide for yourself and your family, and you hope that it will be safe and meaningful. Unfortunately, many find that the process of finding a job is stacked against them. There are laws, though, that protect your rights when you’re applying for a job, laws designed to give you an equal opportunity to realize the American dream.
Several federal statutes protect workers throughout the hiring process by banning hiring decisions that violate anti-discrimination laws. These laws must be applied uniformly throughout the United States. Any hiring decision that violate the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1975, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (often simply referred to as “Title VII”), or any other federal anti-discrimination law provides the injured party with the legal basis for a lawsuit. Protected characteristics include race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, and genetic information.
In limited situations, an employer may discriminate based on one of these factors, if the employer can show a “bona fide occupational requirement.” For example, if an employer seeks to hire someone to model female clothing, the job advertisement may limit applicants by gender without violating anti-discrimination laws.
Any written or oral notice of a job opening must avoid language that suggests or expressly states that applicants in protected classes will not be considered or should not apply, unless those characteristics are considered a bona fide occupational requirement. For example, job advertisements that use words such as “females” or “recent college grads” may discourage men and people over 40 from applying and thus, may violate the law.
As a general rule, a potential employer should avoid asking a candidate any question that would allow the applicant to be categorized in a way prohibited by law. This includes questions about:
An applicant is free to initiate conversations about any such subjects. The employer may then respond as necessary to answer the applicant’s questions.
To minimize the risk of violating an applicant’s rights during the hiring process, employers should typically employ these practices:
The use of certain types of tests to pre-screen potential employees has risen dramatically over the past couple decades. In most instances, those tests don’t pose any legal problems. They can include a broad range of factors and types of tests, including:
As a general rule, a pre-screening test is permissible, provided it is necessary; related to the job; and does not seek to exclude applicants because of gender, race, age, disability, or other protected class. There are, however, some limitations under federal law:
An employer may not make decisions during the hiring process that are in retaliation for the applicant’s “protected activity.” Protected activity includes a wide range of behaviors, including:
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handles claims based on allegations of discrimination in employment. If you’re denied employment because of discrimination, you must first notify the EEOC. Unless you successfully mediate your dispute, the EEOC will investigate your claim, and may either impose sanctions or issue you a “right to sue” letter, allowing you to proceed with a lawsuit in court.
Under state and federal law, job applicants are protected from certain acts by employers during the hiring process. Employers may not post job openings, ask interview questions, or implement pre-employment tests or other screening efforts that categorize potential employees according to protected classes. If you have been the victim of wrongful discrimination in the hiring process, you must initiate your claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
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