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Policy Watch - Employment Rights

The workplace has long been central to the goal of fully including people of all backgrounds into our society. Although federal laws protect employees from discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, national origin, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy and age, employers are often the leaders in putting policies in place that create a welcoming and inclusive environment that embraces a multi-faceted and diverse workforce.

Current Issues

The following specific issues are of particular concern to human resource executives and the organizations they serve:

  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity NondiscriminationAlthough existing federal laws do not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, under the Obama Administration, federal agencies have extended protections to federal employees and those who work for federal contractors. At the end of 2014, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs under the U.S. Department of Labor issued a rule implementing an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
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  • Pregnancy Discrimination. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), employers with more than 15 employees are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Over the last several years, the number of pregnancy discrimination cases reported to the EEOC has increased. In 2014, the EEOC issued the first comprehensive update on the subject of discrimination against pregnant workers since 1983 through its “Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues.” 
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  • Background Checks. Employers need to ensure that new hires possess the talent, work ethic and character needed for the organization’s success. Background investigations—including reference checks, credential or educational certification checks, criminal history checks, credit checks and drug tests—can play a pivotal role in the hiring process. The Fair Credit Reporting Act governs the use of consumer reports, like criminal and credit checks, and has explicit protections for consumers. Further, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars employment decisions based on policies or tests, such as credit or criminal background checks, that have a “disparate impact” on protected groups.
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