Employee's Rights/EEOC

AuthorJeffrey Wilson

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Claims of employee rights and discrimination have become almost commonplace over the course of the last 30 years. Since the passage of the main civil right legislation in the 1960s—the Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA)—federal law has explicitly protected the rights of employees. The 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) added the disabled to the list of protected employees, and the 1991 Civil Rights Act expanded relief possibilities for all groups.

During the course of the last 40 years of employee rights law, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has come to play a primary role in the enforcement of federal civil rights statutes. The EEOC was created in 1964, as part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Virtually all discrimination complaints against employers at the federal level must go through the EEOC first before a lawsuit may be filed. Thus the agency is of paramount importance to both employers and employees.

Considering this, it is important for both employees and employers to know how the EEOC works, what kind of complaints the commission handles, and what is needed to bring a complaint before the EEOC.

Employee-Employer Relationships

At common law, employee-employer relationships that were not controlled by a formal contract were considered at-will relationships. Employees could be dismissed for any reason at all, whether the reason was discriminatory or not.

Today, the at-will relationship between employee and employer is still a common one with employees not working under a union contract or some other form of agreement. However, the at-will term has become somewhat misleading, since a host of federal laws and rules now govern the employee-employer relationship. Perhaps the most important in terms of protecting employees against arbitrary dismissal by employers are the civil rights laws.

When arguably the most important of these laws—the Civil Rights Act of 1964– was drawn up, many advocates of the law felt a gatekeeper was needed to prevent the courts from being clogged with employee lawsuits under the new law. This led to the creation of the EEOC, which was given primary responsibility for the enforcement of these laws. Subsequently, the EEOC was entrusted with the enforcement of practically all civil rights laws, with the

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exception of federal employees, who are protected under the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act. Enforcement of that act is entrusted with the Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The size of the employer determines if it falls under EEOC authority. Employers of 15 or more employees are covered under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act(ADA). Employers of 20 or more are covered under the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA), and the Equal Pay Act has no limit in terms of the size of employers it covers.

Types of Employment Discrimination

There are many types of discrimination covered by the civil rights laws the EEOC is charged to enforce. Some of them include:

Discrimination on the basis of race or color: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits race discrimination.

Discrimination on the basis of sex: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Title VII prohibitions against sex discrimination also prohibit sexual harassment (practices ranging from direct requests for sexual favors to workplace conditions that create a hostile environment for persons of either gender, including same sex harassment). In addition, the federal Equal Pay Act, which the EEOC also enforces, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the payment of wages or benefits, where men and women perform work of similar skill, effort, and responsibility for the same employer under similar working conditions.

Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy: Pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions must be treated in the same way as other temporary illnesses or conditions.

Discrimination on the basis of national origin...

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