Employment Discrimination Laws

Stay Up on State, Local, and Federal Regulations on Discrimination

All employment practices are governed by non-discrimination laws.
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Businesses, no matter how small, need to be aware of the Employment Discrimination Laws. Hiring managers and human resources professionals, in particular, should take note. 

Discrimination in many areas related to employment is illegal. Employers must take careful measures to assure that decisions they make in any aspect of employment are legal, ethical, and supported by documentation of the facts and qualifications.

Employment discrimination laws are clear in stating that employment discrimination is unacceptable and illegal. Specifically, companies cannot legally discriminate against people (applicant or employee) "because of that person's race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit."

Federal and State Laws Vary

There are federal laws that everyone must follow and state and local anti-discrimination laws that employers must follow who are located in their area. It's worth noting that the list below is not comprehensive and just because something is not on this list doesn't mean it's not covered by the law.

For instance, no federal law that prohibits discrimination against people who are overweight (unless that weight counts as a disability) exists. However, "the state of Michigan has outlawed employment discrimination based on weight, as have some cities and local areas, including San Francisco and the District of Columbia."

If you work in a place that has such a law, your employer may not make job decisions based on your weight. In 49 states, discrimination based on weight is not illegal. This is changing as the public becomes more tuned in to all aspects of diversity, so stay in touch with the ever-changing employment laws in your jurisdiction.

Additional federal laws may exist that address employment discrimination. When you consider employment discrimination laws, the more stringent standard, either state or federal, is generally applied in employment discrimination lawsuits.

Note That Some Employers Still Act Illegally

Many of these laws are old and established, yet they still cause problems. For instance, in 2015, the Supreme Court decided a court case that involved the 1964's Title VII law. In this case, a young woman interviewed at retailer Abercrombie and Fitch while wearing a headscarf.

She scored high and would normally have been offered a job, but they rejected her due to the headscarf. The court ruled that the company should have asked if she wore the headscarf for religious reasons rather than waiting for her to ask.

After all, she didn't know that the scarf was against their company policy. 

Laws That Affect Employers

Here are some of the federal laws that protect employees. Laws are constantly being changed and challenged so you need to do your due diligence to stay on top of things. When in doubt about laws that could affect your location, check with your state equivalent of the Federal Department of Labor and an employment law attorney.

  • Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) protects men and women who perform equal work from wage discrimination based on sex.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Title VII also applied to employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects people who are age 40 and older from employment discrimination based on age.
  • Rehabilitation Actof 1973 bans discrimination against qualified people with disabilities who work in the federal government.
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 makes it illegal to discriminate against a woman due to pregnancy or childbirth. For example, you can't refuse to hire a pregnant woman because of her pregnancy.
  • Older Worker's Benefit Protection Act of 1990 protects older worker's benefits in things such as retirement and pensions.
  • Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability. (Individual states may include employers with fewer employees.)
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991 provides monetary damages in cases where an employer has practiced intentional employment discrimination.
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) disallows employment discrimination based on genetic information about an applicant, employee, or former employee.
  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to state that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing a pay discrimination lawsuit starts over with each new discriminatory paycheck.


These are the primary federal requirements in employment discrimination laws. Keep these in mind as you hire and discipline employees. Your prime focus should always be on the person's performance and skills or potential performance and not on the personal aspects of the employee or applicant's life.

Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a world-wide audience and ​employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance.