Sex discrimination and sexual harassment can be critically damaging to a woman’s career. That’s why it’s import to learn the employment rights that are most at risk when going to work for a new company. Even if you have been at your job for a while, knowing your rights could help prevent or remedy situations where they have been compromised.                                                                              

It takes courage to make claims of sex discrimination known, but equipped with the guidance of an experienced attorney, women workers can learn how to hold their employers accountable and still keep their careers intact the legal way. Here are five key things women need to know about their employment rights.

You have the right to have allegations of sexual harassment or sex discrimination investigated by your employer and/or by the EEOC

Most employers are equipped with a sexual harassment policy which requires a thorough investigation of sexual harassment and sex discrimination violations. Even if a policy is not firmly in place, the EEOC does require all covered companies to post notice of federal laws concerning sex discrimination.

It’s important to get familiar with your company’s grievance and investigation process. This information can usually be obtained from your HR department. Employees who feel they’ve been subjected to sex discrimination should have their allegations investigated or file a formal charge of discrimination with the EEOC with the help of an attorney.

The EEOC enforces federal laws concerning sex discrimination, but keep in mind state law remedies may also be available. Filing a charge of sex discrimination at the state level means a larger number of employers fall under employment law guidelines.

For instance, federal laws only apply to companies with 15 or more employees, while California state laws on discrimination cover companies with as few as five employees. Often, a case that does not qualify under federal law because of coverage limitations, may qualify under state law.

Unequal pay could be grounds for a sex discrimination claim

One subset of sex discrimination under both federal and state laws is equal pay discrepancies. This includes differences in pay between men and women. For example, if a female worker has been with a company for 15 years at a certain pay scale, and yet an employer hires a man with the same or identical qualifications and pays him more than her, she may have a claim of discrimination in compensation under Title VII, the Equal Pay Act or the applicable state law.

The gender gap issue is a traditional one. Today, women still make less than men, and minority women suffer most when it comes to equal pay in the workplace. Though legislation has been proposed to address the equal pay issue, particularly with the Equal Pay Act, the problem still persists.

You can’t be fired for getting pregnant, and you are not required to endure unfair treatment if working while pregnant

The general rule with pregnancy rights at the federal level (15 or more employees in a company) is that women who are pregnant or have pregnancy related conditions must not be treated differently from other workers with similar disabilities or limitations.

This means an employer’s policy on pregnancy and pregnancy related matters must treat workers with similar conditions within the company equally. Employers must also refrain from refusing to hire an already pregnant worker due to her pregnancy. This is because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects workers in all conditions of employment, including hiring.

One of the most important and prevalent issues concerning pregnancy discrimination involves leave. Generally, problems arise when employers attempt to force pregnant works to take leave due to their pregnancy or attempt to force them to stay on leave rather than return back to work. Both situations can be challenging for workers since, in the U.S., most leave is unpaid.

After filing a charge of discrimination or harassment, you have the right to work free of harassment and retaliation

It is not uncommon for workers to experience negative reactions from employers once they’ve filed a charge of discrimination or even complained about discrimination or harassment to company supervisors. These types of adverse reactions take a number of forms, form outright termination to exclusion from assignments or important work affairs.

Workers should be aware of their right to work free of retaliation or further discrimination after they’ve complained or filed formal charges of discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as just about every state law on employment discrimination, makes it clear that retaliation is not lawful.

The best step to take if you feel your employer is retaliating is to stay in constant contact with your attorney. A skilled employment rights attorney is knowledgeable of the employer behavior that constitutes retaliation and what does not. Professional legal assistance can help to ensure that your rights are protected even if employers choose to retaliate.

Sex discrimination can include unfair treatment from employers based on gender identity as well as sex stereotyping

When your gender identity (transgender status) becomes an issue at work, make a careful review of your rights under both state and federal law. In the absence of a federal law covering protection for gender identity discrimination in employment, many states are enacting protections themselves.

For instance, in California, state law dictates that employers may not discriminate based on actual or perceived gender identity in the terms and conditions of employment. This means for instance, that an employer cannot lawfully refuse to hire or terminate the employment of a worker based on their actual or perceived transgender status.

Sex stereotyping is also gaining recognized among some states as grounds for employer liability. Sex stereotyping occurs when employers superimpose biased notions about the way certain genders should or should not behave.  Employers cannot lawfully use or rely on such biased notions, for instance, about the way a woman should dress or how strong a man should be, to make important employment decisions.