Title VII is a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it makes discrimination in almost all employment action in regards to race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy or national origin illegal. Title VII is applicable to most employers (with some exceptions) with 15 or more employees. When Title VII was created it was meant to make employers judge candidates and employees based on their ability to do the job and not any of the now protected classes. Some areas of employment action that fall into this are hiring, firing and promotions.
14 years later the The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII to ensure that women who are pregnant get the same protections as employees who are disabled. Even though the law does not specifically talk about harassment it is generally included in this provision.
When you break this law down to the most simple of terms, it requires you to treat all employees equally but not necessarily the same. You must offer everyone the same opportunity to have a job or promotion regardless of their protected class, but you can not have a policy so broad that it excludes someone who may need an accommodation to successfully be hired or promoted. As an example, if you have an employee who is of the Muslim Faith and they need to be able to be in prayer on Friday during a specific time but you have a strict rule that everyone must work during that time without exception, then you could be excluding those protected individuals.
The best way for employers to be in compliance is to make sure that they and their supervisors are always using an individualized assessment to ensure that they are not discriminating against an employee. You should have very specific job-related reasons for offering or not offering employment/promotions/accommodations, etc. To help this process, employers should hold training for all leadership at least annually (but preferably twice a year) to make sure that all the leaders get the information and have an opportunity to ask questions.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who is the enforcement agency for this title, has said that in order for an employer to show that it did enough to help prevent this law from being broken, they should also test the leaders/employees after the training to ensure an understanding of the information.
People want to make this title complicated, but it is probably one of the most straightforward employment laws out there… it’s in place to ensure that workplaces treat everyone with respect and understanding.
Cover Photo by Arthur Yeti