Friday, April 12, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #103 - Part 2

Outrage of the Week: legal discrimination

What do the following things have in common: having gone through a bankruptcy, your political views, favoritism, nepotism, your appearance, your credit history, your weight, being sick, and having been unemployed. What do they have in common?

The answer is, they are all perfectly legal ways to discriminate against you in employment.

Let me run through these quickly: The Bankruptcy Code says you can't be fired or discriminated against in your job because of a bankruptcy. But there's nothing to say they can't refuse to hire you in the first place because of one.

Some states have laws prohibiting discrimination based upon political affiliation, that is, what your politics are or what political party you join. Others don't. But in most cases you can be fired if you express any of those opinions, if you say go to a demonstration or even, maybe, write a letter-to-the-editor. It comes as a surprise to most people to learn that the only workers who have guaranteed First Amendment rights are employees of the federal government.

Flat-out favoritism at work is legal. Now, if you're a member of a protected class specified in civil rights laws, and you're being discriminated against for that reason, that's illegal. But if it's because you're you, it's legal. So if a potential employer says "I won't hire you because you're black," that's illegal. Bit if they say "It's not because you're black, I just don't like you," that's legal.

On the same basis and related to that, in the private sector nepotism is also legal. Not so much in the public sector, but in the private sector, it's entirely legal for employers to favor family members and friends. Again, if you're a member of a protected class, you may have protection. Otherwise, otherwise.

Very few states or municipalities have laws against appearance discrimination, that is, discriminating on the basis of what you look like. There are no federal laws against it. So it's not illegal for someone to discriminate against you because they don't like your looks or the style of clothes you wear or the color of your hair or whatever.

In most states, an employer can refuse to hire you if you have a low credit score. Some states have passed laws against using credit history as the basis for employment decisions. Most have not.

Weight discrimination is mostly legal. That is, discriminating against you in hiring and promotion based on the size of your waistline is legal. A very few states and municipalities have limitations on such discrimination; otherwise, unless you weight relates to a serious medical condition or a disability, you're screwed.

Related to that, unless you live in Connecticut or one of just four cities - Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, or Washington, DC - you have no legally guaranteed paid sick time. Live anywhere else, and unless your sickness is among narrowly-defined set of serious medical condition or relates to a disability, you have no protection. Take a day off to go to the doctor and you can get fired. Legally.

By the way, not long ago the Philadelphia city council passed a bill for guaranteed sick time but the city's mayor, the appropriately-named Micheal Nutter, vetoed it.

Finally, New Jersey, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have passed laws barring unemployment discrimination. Everywhere else in the country, it is entirely legal and in fact common practice to refuse to hire someone precisely because they do not have a job. That may sound insane, but it's legal. And outrageous.


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