Federal Fair Employment Laws

The following table shows some of the federal fair employment laws that are of general application. Normally, the effect of these laws starts with the hiring process and continues through the termination of the employment relationship.

Federal Law Employment-Related Prohibition Who's Subject
to the Law?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act Prevents discrimination against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Employers having at least 15 employees.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act Prevents discrimination on the basis of age against employees who are over 40 years old. Employers having at least 20 employees.
Americans with Disabilities Act Prevents discrimination against disabled employees. Employers having at least 15 employees.
Immigration Reform and Control Act Prevents discrimination against employees on the basis of national origin or citizenship status. Employers having at least 4 employees.
National Labor Relations Act Prevents discrimination against employees who engage in or who refuse to engage in union activity. Also protects nonunion employees who act together in an effort to improve or protest working conditions that affect them on the job. Employers whose business has a significant impact on interstate commerce.
Employee Retirement Income Security Act Prevents employees from being discharged solely to prevent them from vesting or qualifying for benefits under qualified pension plans. Employers who maintain qualified pension plans for their employees' benefit.

Retaliatory discharge laws. Apart from antidiscrimination laws, a number of federal laws make it unlawful for an employer to fire an employee merely for asserting rights under those laws. For example, the federal law providing minimum wage and overtime rules (the Fair Labor Standards Act) protects from discharge employees who start proceedings or who take other actions in an attempt to have the law enforced. Similar restrictions on so-called "retaliatory" discharges are provided under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Vietnam Era Veterans Reemployment Act, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, various environmental protection laws such as the Clean Air Act, and several other federal laws.

Firing substance abusers. If alcohol or drug use has caused one of your employees to have a dangerous accident, endanger another employee, or not show up for work frequently, you may be tempted to eliminate the "problem" by simply firing the employee. However, before doing so, you should keep in mind that federal and state laws that protect disabled employees against discrimination may apply to alcoholics or drug users. In other words, it may be unlawful for you to fire an employee for a substance abuse problem unless you have first given the employee a reasonable chance for rehabilitation.