Employee Rights Laws Part 1: Overview of Federal Anti-Discrimination Employment Laws

Employee Rights Laws Part 1: Overview of Federal Anti-Discrimination Employment Laws

In most states, including New York and New Jersey, unless you have a written employment contract, are a member of a labor union, or are a civil service employee, you are probably an employee at will. Employment at will is the general principal that your company can fire you for any reason, or even for no reason at all. It also means you can quit your job for any reason.

Fortunately, federal, state, and local laws create many exceptions to employment at will that give employees significant protection from an unfair or arbitrary termination. This, the first part of a four part series, discusses some of the most important federal anti-discrimination laws. The second part describes many other important federal “wrongful termination” laws. Part three addresses some of the most important exceptions to employment at will under New Jersey law. Part four reviews employee rights laws under New York State and New York City law.

Federal Anti-Discrimination Employment Laws

The following is an overview of some of the most important federal anti-discrimination laws. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. It is also important to understand that not every federal employment law applies to every employee. If you believe your employment law rights have been violated, you should contact a knowledgeable, dedicated and experienced employment lawyer.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)

  • Protects employees who are at least 40 years old from age discrimination.
  • Prohibits employers from harassing employees who are 40 years old or older because of their age.
  • Makes it unlawful to retaliate against individuals who object to age discrimination.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

  • Prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who are disabled, perceived to be disabled, or have a record of a disability.
  • Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to allow disabled employees to perform the essential functions of their jobs.
  • Protects individuals who complain aboutdisability discrimination or who request a reasonable accommodation for a disability, by prohibiting retaliation.

Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA)

  • Prohibits employers from discriminating between men and women in terms of salary and other wages if they hold the same job under similar working conditions.

False Claims Act of 1986 (FCA)

  • Allows individuals to file whistleblower actions (called qui tam actions) against individuals who defrauded the federal government, including health care fraud, fraud by defense contractors, and fraud in other federal spending programs.
  • Permits some whistleblowers who bring successful claims under the False Claims Act to receive a portion of any damages recovered.

Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008 (GINA)

  • Prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of genetic information. Additional information about GINA is available in a previous article.

Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970 (OSHA)

  • Requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.
  • Makes it unlawful for employers to fire or otherwise discriminate against employees who file complaints, testify, or exercise other right under OSHA.

Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA)

  • Prohibits companies from denying employee benefits to older employees because of their age, with limited exceptions.
  • Adds numerous requirements before a settlement of an age discrimination claim to be enforceable under the ADEA, such as requirements that the employee is:
    1. Provided the ages of employees who were laid off and retained in a reduction in force;
    2. Provided at least 21 days to review the agreement (45 days in the case of a mass layoff);
    3. Given at least 7 days to revoke the agreement after signing it; and
    4. Advised to consult a lawyer before accepting a severance offer that contains a waiver of rights.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

  • Prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions, as forms of unlawful.

Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Section 1981)

  • Prohibits discrimination due to race or ethnicity in the making, performance, modification, and termination of contacts, including employment contracts, or with respect to the benefits, privileges, terms, and condition of a contractual relationship.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)

  • Prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex (gender) color, national origin, and religion.
  • Makes it illegal for an employer to harass an employee due to race, sex (gender) color, national origin, or religion, including prohibiting sexual harassment.
  • Protects individuals who make complaints of discrimination or harassment based on race, sex (gender) color, national origin, and religion, by prohibiting retaliation.

Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (URESSA)

  • Prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because of his or her service in the Armed Forces Reserve, the National Guard, or other uniformed services.
  • Entitles veterans, reservists, National Guard members, and other members of the uniformed services to return to their jobs in the private sector after an absence for military service or training.

Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1994 (WARN Act)

  • Requires most companies with 100 or more employees to provide at least 60 days advance notice of a mass layoff or plant closing.


The employment attorneys at Rabner Baumgart Ben-Asher & Nirenberg, P.C., are experienced at representing employees in New York and New Jersey whose federal employment discrimination law rights have been violated.

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2 responses to “Employee Rights Laws Part 1: Overview of Federal Anti-Discrimination Employment Laws”

  1. tina says:

    im looking for some advice i was suspend without pay over a sexual harassment that happened by a customer i do have a case with ILLINOIS HUMAN RIGHTS and im still its almost been a month and that customer still not ban can u please help thank you Tina Munds

  2. Tina,
    Thank you for your message. Unfortunately, I am only admitted to practice law in New York and New Jersey, so I cannot help you with an employment law situation in Illinois. However, you can try searching for a lawyer in your state on the website for the National Employment Lawyer’s Association, http://www.nela.org.
    I wish you the best of luck!