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  • Writer's pictureOtegrity HR

What is Title VII and Why Does It Matter?

To kick off our labor law series, let’s talk about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. What is it and why should you worry about it? To answer that, we first need to discuss why Title VII was enacted and why it matters.

Picture this. It’s the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement is in full swing. African American citizens are fighting for their right to vote, their right to be respected, their right to be treated fairly in the workplace. Then, in 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act with Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at his side. But what does the Civil Rights Act have to do with HR? The answer lies in one section called Title VII.

What Title VII Covers Title VII states employers cannot legally discriminate against any employee because of race, color, religion, sex (sexual orientation or gender identity), and national origin. Let’s define what each of these categories means.

  • Race: a concept that groups people together based on physical, behavioral and cultural characteristics

  • Color: the color of someone’s skin

  • Religion: someone’s belief and/or worship of a higher power

  • Sex (sexual orientation or gender identity): how a person identifies their own gender and the gender(s) they are attracted to; under Title VII it also includes pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions

  • National Origin: the place a person is from

It’s important to remember that Title VII is only required of employers with over 15 employees but should be practiced by all employers.

What is Considered Discrimination Discrimination in the workplace can come in many forms. This may be:

  • Different compensations, terms, conditions or privileges of employment based on the protected traits

  • Not hiring someone due to protected traits

  • Limiting, segregating or classifying the individual in any way that would deprive them of employment or adversely affect their employment status

  • Adjusting someone’s employment-related test or holding them to a different standard

  • Including preferences, limitations or specifications in a job posting based on protected traits

  • Harassing or allowing harassment based on protected traits

  • Retaliating against someone who submitted a discrimination complaint, formally or informally

All of these are direct ways you could violate Title VII; however, you can also violate Title VII through disparate impact or treatment. Disparate impact is when there are policies in place that may have an unintended impact on people who possess certain traits. For example, you may have a policy that applies to all genders but has a negative impact on the women at your company. It’s important to be aware of how company policies affect all employees regardless of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Title VII Consequences In 2016, a man was fired from his job with The City of Venice, Florida and replaced with a white employee after undergoing a series of unwarranted disciplinary actions such as 2 unpaid suspensions. The man claimed that he was called racial slurs by his former coworkers and was not even able to eat his lunch peacefully. The former employee filed a Title VII claim and secured $195,000 in lost wages and damages from the city. Finding yourself charged with a Title VII violation isn’t a good situation to say the least. Here are some of the consequences the court can order if your business is found guilty of a Title VII violation:

  1. Fines and damages up to $300,000

  2. Cease unlawful employment practices

  3. Pay back wages covering up to 2 years before the charge was filed

  4. Reinstatement of any affected individual

  5. Pay any other costs the court deems appropriate

  6. Cover any attorney fees for the prevailing party

To help avoid any violations, you should keep proper employment data on file for three years and file an EEO-1 report each September. The EEO-1 report is required of businesses with over 100 employees or if you have an Affirmative Action Plan. All businesses should also have the necessary Workplace Discrimination posters posted on the worksite for all employees and applicants to see.

Title VII is just one of many important labor laws you should be aware of as an employer. Follow Otegrity as we explore what labor laws are, what the consequences of each are, and preventative actions you can take to avoid violations. Next up: FLSA.

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