In professional life, people are hired and terminated on a regular basis. Most employees are at-will employees, meaning employees can leave whenever they please. But that also means the employer can terminate the employee at any time.
According to the North Carolina Department of Labor, “employment at will” refers to the ability of the employer to treat the employee as they best see fit unless there is a specific law or contract that protects the employee. Basically, employment-at-will means that the employer can fire the employee for “any reason or no reason at all.”
There are a few exceptions. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that makes it illegal to discriminate employees based on race, color, religion, or sex (which includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy). Essentially, Title VII allows discriminated individuals against in the workplace an avenue for recourse, i.e., a way to file a lawsuit. There are multiple ways that discrimination can occur in employment. For example, should a woman be terminated, and a man is retained despite the woman’s better performance or superior credentials, that could a Title VII violation by way of an adverse employment action. Moreover, if there is evidence of sexual harassment in the form of things such as insults or intimidation, that would create a hostile work environment, would violate Title VII. Discrimination based on the previously mentioned factors that involve hiring, termination, compensation, recruiting, benefits, training, facility use, or the working environment regarding employment is prohibited by Title VII.
Title VII goes beyond plain employment discrimination. Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who filed or participated in a discrimination lawsuit or if the employee just complained about discrimination. It is illegal not only to discriminate in a direct way, i.e., simply firing someone because they are a different race or religion, but also it is illegal under Title VII if the actions, procedures, or practice has a discriminatory effect. If an employee has a strongly held religious belief, the employer must make accommodations for the employee to participate in that ritual, whether that be an observance or practice, unless it would create an “undue hardship” on the employer’s operations. Even if the employer is not discriminating the employee because of the characteristics (i.e., race, national origin, sex, etc.) of the specific employee but is instead discriminating the employee because of characteristics of a person the employee is married to or associated with, the employer will still be violating Title VII.
Lastly, claims for violations of Title VII are not brought against specific individuals. Rather, the employer, e.g., the corporation, is held liable for the discriminative actions of its employees towards other employees instead of the discriminative employee being personally liable. All claims for violations of Title VII are filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
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