“Discrimination” at the workplace occurs when your employer treats you differently. Discriminatory acts include making you work under unequal working conditions (such as lower pay or benefits), failing to promote you, or firing you. But not all “discrimination” is illegal discrimination.
If your boss fires you because he simply doesn’t like you, that is not illegal. But an employer covered by discrimination laws can’t discriminate against you because you are in a certain “protected” class of people, such as a racial or religious minority. “Harassment” is a specific kind of discrimination.
It occurs when someone else in your workplace (e.g., a supervisor or co-worker) says or does something to make you feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Harassment is illegal only if it is done because of your race, sex, or other protected category. Which employers are covered by anti-discrimination laws? The federal law that prohibits most workplace discrimination (including race discrimination, sex discrimination, and national origin discrimination) is called Title 7 of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law applies only to employers with 15 or more employees. Another federal law – the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) – applies only to employers who have at least 20 employees. As a result, a small employer might be able to discriminate against you without violating federal law. But some state anti-discrimination laws apply to smaller employers.
Since this is a complicated area, you should check with a labor law attorney to see if your employer is covered by discrimination laws. What acts of discrimination are illegal? Everything – hiring, firing, demotion, refusals to promote or grant pay increases, transfers, and anything else that has a negative effect on your job. If you have other questions about discrimination or harrassment, contact a labor lawyer near you.