Race is not the only form of workplace discrimination

When Oklahoma residents hear the word "discrimination," it is likely that the first image that comes to mind is racial bias. This is understandable, given the history of the United States, as well as the current difficulties the country faces with regard to race relations. In the context of the law, however, experienced employment attorneys are well aware that other forms of discrimination exist. In Oklahoma, discrimination in the workplace is actionable if the person discriminated against is a member of a "protected class." While race is indeed one of these protected classes, there are other protected classes, as well, and discrimination based on any of them can be just as damaging.

For example, discrimination on the basis of disability seems to be one of the most widespread forms of this illegal activity. Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as Oklahoma law, employers must make reasonable accommodations so that disabled employees can do their jobs. This means not only accommodating the individual's disability in the immediate work area, but also ensuring that public areas, such as break rooms and rest rooms, are accessible to all employees. What constitutes reasonable accommodation has changed in the past few years, but our lawyers are make great efforts to stay up-to-date on the current state of the law.

Another often overlooked area of discrimination occurs when an employer violates the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), especially in cases of pregnant employees. Employers must allow workers to take time off from work up to the statutorily defined amount of leave and allow them to return to the same or equivalent position. While the employee on leave doesn't have to be paid (unless some other contract or collective bargaining issue intervenes), the employer must keep the job open. An employer also cannot penalize any family members of the employee who is on leave because of the use of the legally mandated leave time.

There are, of course other suspect classes, such as religion, gender, national origin, and, in some jurisdictions, sexual orientation. Discrimination occurs when one loses a job or is passed over for benefits or promotions due to one's membership in a protected class. If you feel you have been discriminated against or you are an employer looking to implement policies designed to prevent potential discrimination in your workplace, please find more information at our workplace discrimination web page.