In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits employment discrimination, protecting employees and job applicants against discrimination, unfair treatment and harassment in the workplace due to any of a list of factors. Some of these factors include race, color, religion, sex – inclusive of gender identity, transgender status and sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, age if they are 40 or older, disability and genetic information. Workers’ disabilities and religious beliefs must also be accommodated in their workplace. Additionally, workers are not to be punished for complaining about job discrimination or helping with an investigation or lawsuit. However, it is worth noting that the EEOC laws only apply to businesses with 15 or more employees.
There is also the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA), which dictates the minimum wage, overtime and minimum age requirements for both employers and employees. However, the FLSA is not a universal standard for all businesses based in the United States – many states have their own labor standards with which employers in that state must comply. Even so, some types of jobs may be excluded from coverage if they are already covered by another federal labor law, or if they are specifically excluded by statute.
Of course, there are mixed opinions on the fairness of the current labor laws. It is easy for one to say that the labor laws are fair, as they easily encompass all groups of people to prevent anyone from being discriminated. However, the labor laws have many loopholes that can be easily exploited by those with prejudices. For instance, the Equal Pay Act only prohibits employers from paying different wages to their workers based on sex, but does not prohibit other discriminatory hiring practices, although most of these were addressed in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents employers from discriminating against employees in regards to hiring, discharging, compensating or providing the terms, conditions and privileges of employment. It can also be suggested that labor laws are not fair against former prisoners. Companies are allowed to ask if an applicant was a convicted felon, and they can also reject applicants if deemed unsuitable for the position. This often results in former prisoners working low-level jobs for low pay.
One should also pay attention to the individual policies of many states and counties, which can often nullify the federal laws. An example where groups of people are still marginalized and discriminated against despite federal laws would be the LGBT+ community. Although the Supreme Court passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, most state laws still allow the legal discrimination of same-sex couples. They can be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes and denied service by hotels, restaurants and businesses. To top it off, they can also be denied credit and excluded from juries. Even if same-sex couples can be legally married in the country, it is unlikely anyone would want to live under these conditions where discrimination is still rampant – where you can be fired after getting married. Some surveys conducted by the LGBT Progress campaign at the Center for American Progress in 2015 found that in the past few years, approximately 10 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers surveyed had been fired due to their sexual preference, while 26 percent of transgender workers surveyed had been fired. Only 21 states have labor laws to protect the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers, while only 19 out of those 21 states also have laws to protect the rights of transgender workers. Even if a company is based in one of these states, that does not stop them from firing an LGBT+ worker if they are working in a different state that does not have these anti-discrimination laws. As a result, many LGBT+ people in the United States choose to leave their preferences or identity a secret just so that they can still keep their job.
The federal labor laws do prohibit discrimination against those with mental conditions in the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, there are likewise loopholes around this law, and there is still a considerable stigma against mental conditions. In the case of people with conditions such as autism, depression or personality disorders, it is still possible for employers to discriminate against them. When hiring a new worker especially for certain job positions, employers often have conditions requiring the worker to be comfortable around people, work well in a team or have effective communication skills, which can be difficult for people with these conditions. While it is perfectly fair for an employer to require that of employees who are expected to be working in social situations, these conditions often also apply to jobs that require little social interaction. It is only human nature that an employer would warm up more to a sociable and confident worker without any medical documents than one whose medical records state that they have a potentially impairing mental condition. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that employers do not have to hire or keep people in jobs that they are unable to perform, or employ people who pose a direct threat to safety, constituted by a significant risk of substantial harm either to themselves or others. For an employer to reject or fire a worker based on their mental condition, there must be objective evidence that the worker is unable to perform their job duties or that they would pose a significant safety risk. However, employers who really want a worker out of their workplace can easily get around the law.
In conclusion, it would be fair to say that labor laws are fair to some extent, only as much as social stigma and discrimination is suppressed. While the labor laws are fair if they are read as face value, no law is perfect, and the labor laws can just as easily be worked around to fire or reject someone. As such, if there is widespread discrimination and misinformation in the community, labor laws would be as good as non-existent for employers who know how to work the system. On the other hand, if everyone plays their part in preventing the discrimination of certain groups of people, the labor laws would work perfectly, and nobody would have a reason to circumvent them. Thus, the best way to eradicate discrimination in our society is not to create more laws or amend the current ones to make them more fair, but to tackle the root of the problem by spreading acceptance and awareness among the community.