Employers in New York and across the United States are prevented by federal law from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, sex, age, religion and some other factors. However, some employers may engage in perfectly legal behavior that could be perceived as discrimination. Companies can protect themselves against unfair charges of discrimination by taking certain precautions.
Anti-discrimination laws have created protected classes of citizens. Violating the discrimination laws means harassing, demoting, firing or negatively treating an employee solely because of their membership in a protected class. Multiple laws protect workers against discrimination, with the discrimination of workers who are over the age of 40 being covered under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
Employers can have legitimate reasons to ask about or consider the age of employees of in certain situations. For example, if an employee is believed to be nearing retirement age, an employer has a right to inquire as to that employee's plans. If questions are phrased indelicately, however, an employee could perceive the questions as discriminatory or as an attempt to encourage retirement.
Employers could include statements in their written policies that expressly prohibit discrimination. By doing this, the company has clear written proof that discrimination is not tolerated.
Understanding employment law can be confusing for employers and employees alike. Firing or demoting an employee who is a member of a protected class does not automatically make an employer guilty of discrimination. Employers who find themselves charged with discrimination could seek legal representation to help them understand the charges, their legal rights and possible courses of action that could be taken.