Most people seem to know that Georgia is an “at-will” employment state and that an employer can fire you for any reason at all. While this is true, the backdrop to this is that an employer can fire you for any reason at all, so long as that reason is not unlawful. What would constitute and unlawful reason? Well for starters, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on age, disability, gender, national origin, pregnancy, race or color, retaliation, sexual harassment. While this list is not exhaustive, what is clear is that, even in a state like Georgia which has very little state-law protection for workers, the federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against workers in the workplace. This prohibition against discrimination applies to all stages of the work process, from hiring, promotions, and firing.
Because Georgia goes out of its way to promote itself as an employer friendly state (mostly to attract businesses), some of the worst discrimination takes place here because employers mistakenly believe that our workers have little protection from this type of abuse. However, this is a mistake that employers who discriminate against their workers make at their own peril because the federal laws that protect all workers are alive and well, in Georgia and in any other state in the United States.
Age discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are 40 years old or older. Disability discrimination occurs when an employer or other covered entity treats a qualified individual with a disability who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because he or she has a disability. Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older, see above), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under the EEOC laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws. National origin discrimination involves treating workers unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not). Pregnancy discrimination involves treating a woman in the workforce unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Race discrimination involves treating a worker unfavorably because he or she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features). Color discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of the color of their skin. The EEO laws prohibit punishing job applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination including harassment. Asserting these rights is called “protected activity,” and it can take many forms. It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.