Employment discrimination refers to when an employee or potential employee is treated less favorably than other similar employees, solely because of certain characteristics that they possess. Such characteristics are protected by law, and may include:
- Gender and gender identity;
- Religion; and
- Disability, to name a few.
Employment discrimination may also occur when one group of employees are treated better than another group. Again, this treatment is based on protected classes or categories. An example of this would be when one group of workers is obviously receiving benefits that are denied to others, solely on the basis of their sex.
Generally speaking, such discrimination happens when a person is already hired. However, as previously mentioned, employment discrimination can also happen when a person is still seeking employment. An example of this would be when a person is not hired for a position they are otherwise qualified for, because they belong to a specific religion.
Laws governing employment discrimination can often vary from state to state. Florida is an at-will employment state, meaning that employers can terminate employees for any reason or no reason at all. However, those reasons must not be illegal nor discriminatory. In addition to adhering to the federal laws, Florida employment discrimination laws extend to cover:
- Marital status;
- AIDS/HIV status; and
- Sickle Cell trait status.
Additionally, some Florida cities maintain their own laws. An example of this would be how in Miami, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee or potential employee because of their sexual orientation.
Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws
As previously mentioned, there are several federal laws in place which are intended to protect employees from employer discrimination. These laws are also enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Some examples of such laws include:
- Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was put in place to prohibit discrimination against an employee because of their race, religion, sex, or national origin. Additionally, the Civil Rights Act provides for the equal treatment of Americans regardless of their age, disability, or pregnancy status. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was instrumental in the creation of Affirmative Action plans;
- The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”): This Act prohibits discrimination against an individual based on their disability, and also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations that are necessary to allow the employee to carry out their job. It is important to note that the ADA protects people in all areas of life, not just the workplace;
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: Under The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, discrimination against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or child birth is prohibited. Congress passed this Act in 1978 to address discrimination against any employee or applicant who is temporarily unavailable to work, due to being pregnant;
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963: The Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) requires that all employees, regardless of their gender identity, are to be paid equal wages if they perform the same type of work for the same employer. Skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions are all considered under the EPA;
- The Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”): The IRCA was passed as a way of imposing various requirements on employers regarding employees’ immigration status. An example of this would be how the Act determines when and how an employer should verify the employment eligibility of employees; and
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”): The FMLA is a federal law which governs how employees are allowed to take unpaid medical leave. One of its features is that the Act protects employees against being fired while on a legitimate or approved medical leave. It also guarantees that the employee will not lose their medical and/or health benefits while they are away on medical leave.
What Are Florida Anti-Discrimination Laws? How Do I File an Employment Discrimination Complaint in Florida?
As was briefly mentioned, Florida discrimination laws mirror but expand upon federal anti-discrimination laws. Similar to the federal discrimination laws, the Florida Civil Human Rights Act also prohibits employment discrimination based on protected classes. Therefore, when it comes to filing an employment discrimination complaint in Florida, you have both the option of filing under the federal laws, or through the Florida state administrative agency that handles employment discrimination.
The Florida Commission on Human Relations (“FCHR”) is the state administrative agency that handles discrimination in the workplace in Florida. The agency has a work sharing agreement with the federal government. This means that when you may file your claim with either agency, and you also have the ability to cross-file one suit with both agencies.
In addition to the federal anti-discrimination laws, Florida also provides extended coverage to small businesses with less than 15 employees, or 20 employees in the case of age discrimination matters. Therefore, if you are an employee of a small business and believe you were discriminated against, you may still have protections under Florida law.
When it comes to choosing between which agency to file with first, some attorneys may suggest to file with one organization over the other. However, both agencies have important deadlines that you must meet. This deadline to file your claim is known as the statute of limitations. For example, the Florida employment discrimination statute of limitations is one year from the date that you believe you were discriminated against. The federal statute of limitations to file your claim with the EEOC is 300 days from the date you were discriminated against.
Exception to Protected Classes
It is important to note that those belonging to protected classes are not immune from being terminated. The distinction is that anti-discrimination laws only apply if the reason for termination is related to their belonging to a protected class. Employers may discharge members of a protected class as long as the primary reason for the discharge is unrelated to the employee’s class status.
Some examples of non-discriminatory reasons for discharge include, but are not limited to:
- Failing to meet expectations;
- Poor work performance;
- Failure to abide by company rules;
- Issues involving fraud or dishonesty;
- Frequent, unexcused absences;
- Other criminal behavior;
- Sexual harassment;
- Other discriminatory behavior in the workplace; and
- Physical violence or threats against other employees.
Should I Consult an Attorney in Florida for Discrimination Matters?
If you have faced employment discrimination, you should consult with an experienced and local Florida discrimination lawyer. Because state laws vary so widely in terms of employment discrimination, it is important that you consult with someone local as they will have the best understanding of your legal rights.
An attorney can help you gather evidence of your discrimination claim, as well as file all necessary paperwork to complete an EEOC claim or claim with the FCHR. Finally, should you need to file a lawsuit against your employer, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.
If you are an employer dealing with an employee who has been discriminated against, a discrimination attorney can also help you navigate the matter as well. An attorney will be able to advise you of the best steps to take to handle the discrimination claim.