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    Title VII

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    Can you discuss with us the evolution of Title VII; The impact of Title VII in the workplace; Who is covered and not covered under Title VII and Policies that companies should have in place to avoid Title VII violations?

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    Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") is a federal law that bars employers from discriminating against any person with respect to their compensation or other terms and conditions of their employment on the basis of that person's race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Many anti-discrimination statutes have followed Title VII, but it remains the first and the broadest. Use this overview to become aware of potential problem areas in the day-to-day operation of your business.

    Companies with 15 or more individuals are covered under Title VII. Even if your business is smaller than that, you may be covered by statutes similar to Title VII passed by your state or municipality.

    Title VII applies to all aspects of the employment relationship?hiring, training, job assignments, evaluations, wages and benefits, promotions, layoffs and terminations. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces Title VII. Title VII prohibits behavior that is intentionally discriminatory as well as behavior that simply has the effect of being discriminatory.

    Before looking at the individual categories of protection afforded by Title VII, it is important to note that Title VII prohibits behavior that is intentionally discriminatory as well as behavior that simply has the effect of being discriminatory. For example, a "no beard" policy might seem harmless, but it could have the effect of discriminating against African Americans who have a predisposition to a skin condition aggravated by shaving. With that in mind, here are some of the forms of discrimination that Title VII prohibits.

    Generally speaking, any type of segregation or classification of employees based on their race, color, religion, sex or national origin is prohibited by Title VII. The same is true of pre-employment inquiries that require the disclosure of such information. Similarly, you may not make decisions on hiring, promotions, terminations or any other aspect of the employment relationship based on these factors.

    What Does Title VII Prohibit?

    In addition to some of the general parameters laid out above, the following describes particular behavior in the workplace that could cause your company to run afoul of Title VII.

    Racial Discrimination

    Ethnic slurs, racial "jokes," offensive comments and other physical or verbal conduct based on an individual's race or color are all forms of harassment. If such behavior creates a hostile work environment, or interferes with an employee's work performance, it violates Title VII and can give rise to a charge of discrimination.

    Sexual Harassment
    Sexual harassment is a specific form of sex discrimination under Title VII. Sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other physical conduct of a sexual nature takes place, if submitting to such behavior, or rejecting it, has either an express or implied impact on an individual's employment unreasonably interferes with the employee's work performance, or creates a hostile work environment. The conduct must be unwelcome to violate Title VII, but if it is, you should know the following:

    * The victim can be either a man or a woman, of the same or opposite sex as the harasser.
    * The harasser can be, but does not have to be, the victim's supervisor. Harassment by coworkers and other employees can rise to the level of a Title VII violation, too.
    * The victim does not have to be the direct target of harassment?he or she need only be affected by the offensive conduct.
    * Sexual harassment does not necessarily have to cause financial damage to the victim, or cause his or her discharge.

    Pregnancy Discrimination

    Businesses cannot refuse to hire a woman because of a pregnancy-related condition, so long as the woman is able to perform the major functions of her job. Employers must treat pregnant women, and those with pregnancy-related conditions, in the same fashion as other, non-pregnant employees with a similar ability or inability to work.

    An interesting side note:
    In 1991, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII prohibits an employer from barring females from jobs that could pose risks to fetuses. Despite an employer's best intentions, the Court held that such a policy was discriminatory because it treated all females as potentially pregnant, and only required medical proof from females?not males?that they were incapable of reproduction.

    Religious Discrimination:
    In addition to not taking a person's religion into account when making decisions on hiring, wages and benefits, termination, etc., employers have to make reasonable accommodations for their employees' religious practices. This issue often arises when an employee claims a traditional workday is his or her day of religious observance. There are no hard and fast rules about what to do in such a situation. Title VII only requires employers to offer a "reasonable accommodation." You are not required to offer an accommodation if doing so will result in an unreasonable hardship for your business, but if a legal dispute results, the burden of proof falls on you as the employer.

    National Origin Discrimination
    Employers may not refuse to hire individuals based on their national origin, absent certain exceptions related to national security. You may require employees to speak only English, but that requirement must be supported by a business need. If this is the case, you should tell your employees of the need, and let them know when they must speak in English. As with other forms of prohibited conduct under Title VII, employers must keep the workplace from becoming a hostile environment as the result of ethnic slurs, or other physical and non-physical behavior based on national origin. Failing to prevent this type of behavior can result in liability.

    As you can see, there are many parts of the employment relationship that can lead to trouble under Title VII for the unwary employer. A smart business owner will take heed of the guidelines discussed here, and seek further advice when questions come up about a particular situation. As in

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    Solution Summary

    Evolution of Title VII law and it's impact on the workplace