Written by Avvo Staff

Laws on gender discrimination in the workplace

Are you facing gender discrimination at work? Learn about the laws that protect you.

Gender discrimination in the workplace can happen several different ways. This guide explains what it is, how it can occur, and what you can do if you are facing discrimination because of your gender.

What is gender discrimination?

Gender discrimination is also known as sex discrimination. Gender discrimination is defined treating someone differently, usually unfavorably, because of their gender.

Gender discrimination usually comes up when employers make hiring or firing decisions, or when they decide on promotions, pay, benefits, or other terms of employment. However, sexual harassment and pregnancy are also forms of gender discrimination.

It's important to remember that gender discrimination laws protect you regardless of gender. In some cases, they may also protect you on the basis of gender identity.

What does my employer have to do to prevent and address gender discrimination in the workplace?

Your employer is required to follow both federal and state anti-discrimination laws. The two main laws that cover gender discrimination are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act. Title VII prohibits gender discrimination in all aspects of employment, while the Equal Pay Act prohibits paying employees differently based solely on gender.

What laws protect employees from gender discrimination in the workplace?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prevents employers from intentionally discriminating against you. In addition, even if an action or policy appears to be “gender-neutral,” the employer isn't allowed to go through with it if the result is gender discrimination. Title VII protects you against discrimination in hiring, firing, pay rates, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, benefits, and any other condition of employment.

The Equal Pay Act prevents employers from discriminating against you based on sex, specifically when it comes to wages and benefits. It states that if men and women perform the same work of similar skill, effort, and responsibility under the same working conditions, the employer cannot pay the men and women differently. Additionally, employers are not allowed to reduce wages to equalize pay across genders.

Most states has implemented their own laws on gender discrimination, so be sure to check your state’s laws as well. This will ensure you understand your employer’s responsibilities when it comes to gender discrimination.

How does gender identity relate to gender discrimination laws?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC) is the government agency that enforces Title VII. In 2012, they decided that discrimination based on gender identity, change in sex, or transgender status is gender discrimination under Title VII. While only federal employers are required to follow this decision, the EEOC is likely to use the same approach when deciding discrimination cases against private employers. The EEOC further hopes that courts will begin to recognize gender identity as a basis for gender discrimination.

How does sexual orientation relate to gender discrimination laws?

Like with gender identity, gender discrimination laws do not explicitly prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation. But in early 2015, the EEOC held that federal employers could not discriminate based on sexual orientation. The EEOC stated that under gender discrimination laws, employers could not make sex-based considerations or take gender into account when making employment decisions. Sexual orientation is a sex-based consideration, and is thus prohibited. Legislation has also been proposed to Congress that would add sexual orientation to the list of protected classes under Title VII.

What steps can I take if I believe I have been discriminated against based on gender?

If you believe you have been a victim of gender discrimination, you should contact the EEOC to file a complaint. You cannot file a lawsuit in court without first filing an EEOC complaint. Be aware of filing deadlines when you do so. In most situations, you must file the complaint within 180 days of the alleged incident. If you need help with the process, an employment attorney can discuss your options with you.

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