Employee Rights

Various state and federal laws prohibit workplace discrimination. In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (the “PHRC”) enforces state laws that prohibit such discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (the “PHRA”). The PHRA not only prohibits employment discrimination, but also prohibits discrimination in housing, commercial property, education and public accommodation.

At the federal level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) enforces federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination.

State and federal laws, whether enforced by the PHRC or the EEOC, make it unlawful to discriminate against someone because of his/her race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. These laws apply to applicants and employees alike. These laws also make it unlawful to retaliate against a person for complaining about discrimination, filing a charge of discrimination or participating in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Neutral policies in the employment context may also give rise to a claim of discrimination if those policies and practices have a disproportionate negative impact on applicants or employees of a protected class—namely, race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older) or disability.

Employment discrimination stretches from job advertisements, recruitment, application and hiring, background checks, job referrals, job assignments and promotions, pay and benefits, discipline and discharge, employment references, reasonable accommodation and disability, reasonable accommodation and religion, training and apprenticeship programs, harassment, terms and conditions of employment, dress code, constructive discharge, forced resignation to pre-employment inquiries—such as race, height and weight, financial information, unemployed status, background checks, religious affiliation or beliefs, citizenship, marital status, gender, disability and medical questions and examinations.

The information provided above is only a brief outline of the various types of employment discrimination. For more information regarding some of these legal areas, please use the drop-down tabs below.

At the Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien, we are intimately familiar with this vast area of the law. If you believe you have been subjected to employment discrimination, please call, e-mail or submit an inquiry to us today for a free consultation.

Employers may not discriminate against an employee who is 40 or older in any aspect of employment. Age discrimination does not apply to employees that are under the age of 40. If you believe you suffered an adverse employment action, or were otherwise discriminated against in your employment, on the basis of age (40 or older), you may have a case for employment discrimination. This type of discrimination includes employment policies or practices that apply to everyone, regardless of age, if its effect is to negatively impact applicants or employees age 40 or older and is not based on a reasonable factor other than age.

Employers may not discriminate against an employee with a disability. Employment discrimination occurs in this context if a qualified individual with a disability, as an employee or applicant, is treated unfavorably because of his/her disability. Employment discrimination may also occur on the basis of disability if an employer treated a qualified individual with a disability less favorably because of a history of a disability, or because the employer perceives he/she to have a physical or mental impairment that is not permanent and minor. Employer’s must provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or applicant with a disability, unless doing so would result in undue hardship to the employer. This law also protects individuals from discrimination based on their relationship with a person who has a disability. If you believe you suffered an adverse employment action, or were otherwise discriminated against in your employment, on the basis of disability, you may have a case for employment discrimination.

Employers may not discriminate against an employee based on race/color. This type of discrimination involves treating an employee or applicant unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with a particular race. This law also protects individuals from discrimination based on their relationship with a person of a certain race or color. If you believe you suffered an adverse employment action, or were otherwise discriminated against in your employment, on the basis of race/color, you may have a case for employment discrimination. This type of discrimination includes employment policies or practices that apply to everyone, regardless of race/color, if its effect is to negatively impact applicants or of a certain race/color and is not based on a reasonable factor other than race/color.

Employers may not discriminate against an employee based on sex. This type of discrimination involves treating an employee or applicant unfavorably because of that person’s sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy). If you believe you suffered an adverse employment action, or were otherwise discriminated against in your employment, on the basis of sex, you may have a case for employment discrimination. This type of discrimination includes employment policies or practices that apply to everyone, regardless of sex, if its effect is to negatively impact applicants or of a certain sex and is not based on a reasonable factor other than sex.

Employers may not discriminate against an employee based on religion. This type of discrimination involves treating an employee or applicant unfavorably because of that person’s religious beliefs. This law also protects individuals from discrimination based on their relationship with a person of a particular religion. This law also requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless it would cause more than a minimal burden on the employer’s operation of its business. Or, in the case of dress and grooming policies, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices unless it would cause an undue hardship on the employer. Employer’s also may not force an employee to participate or not participate in a religious activity as a condition to employment. If you believe you suffered an adverse employment action, or were otherwise discriminated against in your employment, on the basis of religion, you may have a case for employment discrimination.

Employers may not discriminate against an employee based on national origin. This type of discrimination involves treating an employee or applicant unfavorably because he/she is from a particular country or part of the world, ethnicity or accent, or the appearance of a certain national origin background. This law also protects individuals from discrimination based on their relationship with a person of a certain national origin. Through other laws and statutes, this law also prohibits an employer from discriminating with respect to hiring, firing or recruitment because of an individual’s citizenship or immigration status. If you believe you suffered an adverse employment action, or were otherwise discriminated against in your employment, on the basis of national origin, you may have a case for employment discrimination. This type of discrimination includes employment policies or practices that apply to everyone, regardless of national origin, if its effect is to negatively impact applicants or of a certain national origin and is not based on a reasonable factor other than national origin.

The FMLA prohibits an employer from terminating or interfering with an employee who provides notice of a need for leave that qualifies under the FMLA, or from terminating or retaliating against an employee for taking leave under the FMLA. Employers that are subject to the FMLA are those in an industry affecting commerce who employ fifty or more employees. The FMLA applies to public agencies. If you believe you suffered an adverse employment action, or were otherwise discriminated against in your employment, on the basis of the FMLA, you may have a case for employment discrimination.

Retaliation is a form of employment discrimination that may violate the rights of employees because of their asserted their rights to protected activity. In this context, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee or applicant for asserting his/her rights to be free from employment discrimination. Protected activity includes, among other things, filing or being a witness to a charge, complaint, investigation or lawsuit involving employment discrimination. Protected activity also includes communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination, refusing to follow orders that would result in employment discrimination, resisting sexual advances or intervening for others that are subject to sexual advances, and requesting accommodation of a disability or for a religious practice. If you believe you suffered an adverse employment action, or were otherwise discriminated against in your employment, on the basis of retaliation, you may have a case for employment discrimination.

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that may violate the rights of employees because of their being part of a protected class. It is defined as unwelcome conduct because of race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment is unlawful where enduring the unwelcome conduct is or becomes a condition of continued employment or where the unwelcome conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive. In this context, an employer is liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in the employee suffering an adverse employment action, such as termination, failure to promote or hire and/or loss of wages. If you believe you suffered an adverse employment action, or were otherwise discriminated against in your employment, because of harassment, you may have a case for employment discrimination.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”) is a federal statute that provides employment protection to uniformed service members and applies to virtually every employer.  In general, USERRA (i) prohibits employment discrimination against uniformed service members for past, current or future military service, (ii) protects uniformed services members’ reemployment rights for their absence from employment because of military service, and (iii) preserves benefits for uniformed service members for their absence from employment because of military service.  If you are a uniformed service member and believe that you have been discriminated in any of these ways, you may have a case under USERRA (and Pennsylvania’s Military Affairs Act).  We also provide counselling for those service members seeking to leave their employment for a period of time for military service.

Any person who performs a service for wages or other remuneration under a contract of hire, written or oral, express or implied, for a public body is protected by Pennsylvania’s Whistleblower Act.  Therefore, any person who witnesses or has evidence of wrongdoing or waste while employed by a public body and who makes a good faith report of the wrongdoing or waste, verbally or in writing, to one of the person’s superiors, to an agent of the employer or to an appropriate authority, is afforded protection under the Act.