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9 Epic Laws That Shaped the American Workforce: What every employer needs to know

December 03, 2020 | By Jeramy Gordon

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This is part of a series of articles exploring the nine major laws that have shaped the American workforce. 

Founded in 1965, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a large federal agency established to administer and enforce civil rights laws against workplace discrimination towards 8 protected classes, making it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

These laws apply to all types of work situations including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.

Let’s take a look at the nine pieces of significant legislation that the EEOC enforces, and their impact on the workforce then and now:

The Equal Pay Act – June 10, 1963

Signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Equal Pay Act mandates equal pay for equal work by forbidding employers from paying men and women different wages or benefits for doing jobs that require the same skills and responsibilities. The bill was among the first laws in American history aimed at reducing gender discrimination in the workplace, making it illegal to pay different salaries for similar work. Combined with increased education and career opportunities for women, these regulations have been credited with helping to narrow the gender wage gap in the United States.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – July 2, 1964

President Kennedy also proposed the initial civil rights act, facing great personal and political conflicts over this legislation. However, the importance of this act diminished any resistance it faced and is now heralded as one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, including discrimination in hiring, compensation, treatment, and firing of workers, and Affirmative Action in the workplace.

The Age Discrimination Act of 1967 – effective June 12, 1968

Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 is a U.S. statute that protects certain workers 40 years of age and older from workplace discrimination. The ADEA specifically prohibits the use of an employee’s or job applicant’s age as a factor in “hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment,” and is meant to minimize the damaging effects of long-term unemployment in older workers.

The Rehabilitation Act – September 26, 1973

The predecessor of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ushered in an era of rights for individuals with disabilities in higher education, government, and private industry. The Act was the first legislation to address the notion of equal access for individuals with disabilities through the removal of architectural, employment, and transportation barriers. It also supported the rights of persons with disabilities through affirmative action programs and attempted to address some of the societal barriers faced by individuals with disabilities, including isolation by placement in institutions, limited access to buildings, and discrimination in education and employment.

The Civil Service Reform Act – October 13, 1978

The federal civil service is made up of individuals other than military personnel who are employed by the executive, legislative, or judicial branches of the federal government. The Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) was passed in reaction to a belief that too many civil service employees were employed but could not be removed despite their incompetence or misconduct. The previously existing disciplinary system was complex and outdated, so the CSRA rewrote, revised, and simplified the myriad statutes governing civil service while also seeking to provide new protections for employees disclosing illegal or improper government conduct.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act – October 31, 1978

An amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits the unfair treatment of a woman on the basis of pregnancy, forbidding discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, and fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance. Since its passage, more women have been able to continue working while pregnant; they have also been able to work further into their pregnancies without being forced to leave their jobs.

The Americans with Disabilities Act – July 26, 1990

According to the CDC, one in four adults in the United States is living with a disability. This means that a large portion of the workforce may need some sort of accommodations to allow for gainful employment. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in hiring, wage determination, and firing, and requires that employers offer reasonable accommodations to disabled workers, such as wheelchair access.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act – May 21, 2008

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 prohibits genetic information discrimination in employment, protecting Americans from discrimination based on their genetic information in both health insurance and employment. What is “genetic information”? It includes information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual’s family members, as well as family medical history. GINA prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions and strictly limits the disclosure of genetic information.

The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – January 29, 2009

On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed his very first piece of legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, overturning the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., 550 U.S. 618 (2007) which severely restricted the time period for filing complaints of employment discrimination concerning compensation. The Act states that each paycheck that contains discriminatory compensation is a separate violation, regardless of when the discrimination began, so unfair pay complaints can be filed within 180 days of a discriminatory paycheck—and that 180 days resets after each paycheck is issued.

Overall, when reading about all of the imperative work the EEOC has accomplished in order to create equal opportunity in our country, from those who drafted the acts, to those who enforce them we should be proud that our country works so tirelessly to ensure fair treatment of all employees and applicants – no matter the gender, the color, the religion, the age, the genetic information, or disability.

Everyone should be considered for employment fairly, and compensated and treated fairly within the workplace. As we enter into the holiday season of a very non-traditional year, let us take a moment to appreciate those acts that are stable, remain in place, and improve the lives of American citizens.

We at Accurate are proud to share, support, and embrace these practices.

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