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Workplace Equality: Laws Women Should Know About

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by Guest Contributor

We all know that America is a land of freedom in which all people are guaranteed equality, regardless of gender, race, religion, and so on.  But while this ideal permeates our society, it’s not always so easy to live up to.  People have their own personal prejudices, and often, they act on them whether it is legal (or appropriate) or not.  However, when you’re operating within the confines of a workplace setting, there are a number of laws in place to ensure that you’re able to perform the duties for which you were hired without the threat of being treated like a second-class citizen.  Here are a few legal fallbacks you can rattle off if you find yourself in an unfair (and illegal) situation of a discriminatory nature.

1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964).  This law is a biggie, since it expressly prohibits discrimination based on sex or sexuality, as well as the occurrence of sexual harassment.  It actually applies to both women and men, and it is meant to curb instances of hostile or offensive words or actions (pertaining to gender or sexuality) that can create an uncomfortable or threatening situation for any employee.  Most employers now mandate sexual harassment training courses upon hire (and sometimes on an annual basis) as a way to help employees understand the scope and ramifications of this law.

2.  Equal Pay Act (1963).  This law prohibits any type of discrimination in the workplace (towards women and men)  abolishes wage disparities based on gender as it pertains to employment practices.  This can include (but is not limited to) unfair hiring, firing, layoffs, and benefits; or sexual harassment related to the aforementioned procedures.  Unfortunately, women still tend to earn about 70% of the salary men in the same position collect.

3. Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978).  This law was enacted as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to combat workplace discrimination (such as firing or refusal to hire) based on women in a state of pregnancy.  It guarantees certain considerations, such as maternity leave (similar to other types of medical leave) with continued pay (at least partial) and benefits.  But it also prohibits firing due to maternity or immediately following return from maternity leave.

4.  Violence Against Women Act (1994).  Although this law (which falls under Title IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act) is not specifically targeted at women in the workplace, it applies to all women at all times, including during the course of their career.  It is aimed at stopping any and all violent crimes perpetrated against women, regardless of setting, and it imposes mandatory restitution on anyone convicted under the law, also allowing victims to seek redress in civil court should the legal system fail to prosecute.

5.  Americans with Disabilities Act (1990).  Again, this does not pertain solely to women, but if you happen to be a female and you have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity”, you should know that you have rights under the law where your employment is concerned.  Basically, you can’t be fired or passed over for hiring based solely on your disability.

Breana Orland writes for Corboy Demetrio Law Firm, a personal injury law firm based in Chicago, Illinois. 

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