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Discrimination Types - Issues | Civil Rights Division | NRCS

Equal Pay Discrimination

The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women be given equal pay for equal work in the same establishment.  The jobs need not be identical, but they must be substantially equal.  It is job content, not job titles, that determines whether jobs are substantially equal.

Employers may not pay unequal wages to men and women who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, and that are performed under similar working conditions within the same establishment.  Each of these factors is summarized below:

Establishment - The prohibition against compensation discrimination under the EPA applies only to jobs within an establishment. An establishment is a distinct physical place of business rather than an entire business or enterprise consisting of several places of business.  However, in some circumstances, physically separate places of business should be treated as one establishment.  For example, if a central administrative unit hires employees, sets their compensation, and assigns them to work locations, the separate work sites can be considered part of one establishment.

Pay differentials are permitted when they are based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or a factor other than sex.  These are known as "affirmative defenses" and it is the employer's burden to prove that they apply.

For additional information on Equal Pay Discrimination go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpage.


Harassment (Non-Sexual)

Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, and/or age.  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 these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality.  To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.

Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.  Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

  • Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.

For additional information on Non-Sexual Harassment go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpage.


Sexual Harassment

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.

  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.

  • The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.

It is helpful for the victim to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop.  The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.

Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace.  Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring.  They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.  They can do so by providing sexual harassment training to their employees and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.

It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on sex or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII.

For additional information on Sexual Harassment go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpage.


Reasonable Accommodation

What is reasonable accommodation?
The term "reasonable accommodation" is a term of art that Congress defined only through examples of changes or modifications to be made, or items to be provided, to a qualified individual with a disability.  A reasonable accommodation is adapting the job site or job functions for a qualified person with a disability to enable an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.  This does not mean that the employer must lower the standards of work for the position or change the job requirements.  There are three categories of reasonable accommodations:

  • Modifications or adjustments to a job application process to permit an individual with a disability to be considered for a job (such as providing application forms in alternative formats like large print or Braille);

  • Modifications or adjustments necessary to enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job (such as providing sign language interpreters); and

  • Modifications or adjustments that enable employees with disabilities to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment (such as removing physical barriers in an office cafeteria).

What are examples of a reasonable accommodation?
Reasonable accommodations that can be requested include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • making existing facilities accessible;
  • restructuring the job;
  • utilizing part-time or modified work schedules;
  • adjusting or modifying tests, training materials, or policies;
  • providing qualified readers and interpreters;
  • acquiring or modifying equipment; and
  • reassigning an individual to a vacant position for which the employee must be qualified.

How can an individual request a reasonable accommodation?
An individual can make either an oral or written request for accommodation.  To request an accommodation, an individual may use "plain English" and does not need to mention the Rehabilitation Act or "reasonable accommodation."  A family member, friend, health professional, or other representative may request a reasonable accommodation on behalf of an individual with a disability.  An individual with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation at any time during the application process or during the period of employment.  The request for a reasonable accommodation must be made for a reason related to a medical condition.

What if the request is denied?
All denials of reasonable accommodation requests must be made in writing, and the decision must specify the reason for the denial.  The denial should be written in plain language, clearly stating the specific reasons for the denial.  After denying a request, the individual must be informed that s/he has the right to file an EEO complaint, has the right to pursue any applicable union grievance and informal alternative dispute resolution.

What are an individual's responsibilities?
Employees or applicants with disabilities who need reasonable accommodation are responsible for making their needs known to the appropriate official.  Supervisors are responsible for properly responding to requests for accommodation from their employees.  When an individual decides to request accommodation, the individual or his/her representative must let the employer know that s/he needs an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition.  The employer and the individual with a disability should engage in an informal process to clarify what the individual needs and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation.

How is a reasonable accommodation decision made?
Decisions on making accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis. Executive Order 16134, however, requires each Federal agency to establish effective written procedures to facilitate the provision of reasonable accommodation for applicants and employees. Contact specific agencies for information on their decision-making process.

What about alternative accommodations?
An individual who is granted a reasonable accommodation might not receive the exact form of accommodation requested.  The deciding official has the discretion to identify reasonable and appropriate alternatives.

For additional information on Reasonable Accommodations go to the NRCS Civil Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpages.