In the United States, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against employees or potential employees on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, age, or physical disability. Workers are protected from this type of discrimination by employment discrimination laws, which are enforced by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Employers may face fines and lawsuits if the workplace does not comply with discrimination laws.

Federal Employment Discrimination Laws

There are many different laws that have been enacted over time to prevent discrimination and to define what constitutes discrimination in the United States. These laws are sometimes amended as new cases indicate a need for revision or clarification. Employers may also face penalties under discrimination laws if it is determined that the employer retaliated against an employee for complaining of practices which were discriminatory.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963

The Equal Pay Act requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex. Employees that cooperate in investigations into the employer’s practice are also protected by this law. If employees are paid differing wages due to factors such as seniority or skill level, it is not considered to be in violation of the Equal Pay Act.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Right Act encompasses a broad range of characteristics which employers are forbidden from discriminating against. Race, color, religion, sex, and national origin are all specified as protected traits upon which an employer cannot base hiring, pay, or treatment when employing an individual. This law was amended to also protect pregnant women from being fired or otherwise discriminated against.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967

The Age Discrimination Act protects employees over the age of 40 from facing discrimination due to age. Employers may wish to hire younger applicants due to the potential longevity of a career with the workplace in comparison to an older employee, or may wish to fire older employees as retirement age nears. This law prevents employers from setting age limits on hiring practices, pay, or any other aspects of employment.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against qualified employees with disabilities in the federal government. This law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee with mental or physical handicaps. If the employer would have to face undue hardship in order to accommodate an employee with disabilities, however, the workplace is not required to make the accommodations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

The American with Disabilities Act is similar to the Rehabilitation Act, but prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the private sector or local government agencies. As with the Rehabilitation Act, employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees, but may be exempt from these accommodations if undue hardship would be imposed upon the workplace. The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. However, specific disabilities to be protected are not outlined in the law.

The Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008

Employers may feel that the longevity of an employee’s career will be affected by factors determined with genetic testing. The Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act was passed to protect employees from facing discrimination on the basis of genetic information that may make employees more prone to certain diseases or conditions. Genetic tests of family members may also not be used to discriminate against an employee.

Prohibited Employment Discrimination Practices

Aspects of employment which are protected by employment discrimination laws include:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Compensation
  • Fringe benefits
  • Retirement or disability plans
  • Transfers
  • Promotions
  • Layoffs
  • Recruitment

Learn more about Florida labor and employment laws.

Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications

There are some cases in which it is not considered discriminatory to limit employment based on some of the characteristics defined in employment discrimination laws. If an employer can show a bona fide occupational qualification, the employer may be allowed to define certain limitations on employment. Bona fide occupational qualifications are most commonly used to justify not hiring older employees due to intense physical demands required of certain job tasks.



“Equal Employment Opportunity.” United States Department of Labor. United States Department of Labor, n.d. Web. 20 Mar 2014. <>

“Introduction to the ADA.” United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, n.d. Web. 20 Mar 2014. <>

“Laws Enforced by EEOC.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision., n.d. Web. 20 Mar 2014. <>