Women working in the U.S. face tough challenges in the workplace. Sex discrimination is on the rise in more ways than one, and navigating through company disputes can be tricky. Yet, women have the right to work free of discrimination, harassment and retaliation at work, and when those rights are violated, women also have the right to hold employers accountable.
Though it is not easy to pin down the most influential employment discrimination issues for working women in the U.S., the following is a brief list of some of the most important and challenging topics facing today’s women in the workplace.
Twenty-one percent. That’s the gap between the amount that men make in the workplace and the amount that women make. The gender wage gap is more commonly expressed as the percentage outcome from dividing the median annual salary of men by the median annual salary of women across the country. This 79 percent statistic is well-known. Also well-known is the fact that each year, rather than closing the wage gender gap, income differences between men and women don’t seem to be improving significantly.
Posited reasons for the wage gap cover traditional territory. Many site the extra childrearing responsibilities for women as the main driving force. Childrearing and child care often lead to more absences and late shows for work and maternity leave may contribute to the lapse in earning potential for women. Pregnancy can be a huge legal issue as some employers see it as setback and use it a reason to mark down performance ability thus discriminating against women in terms of compensation, promotions, termination and even hiring.
The days of Anita Hill hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee may be over, but sexual harassment is not. It still exists heavily in the workplace and beyond. Women are loathe to report it in most instances, sometimes because they don’t know for sure what they’re experiencing is legally defined as sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is described in the legal world under to different types: quid pro quo and hostile environment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct is made a condition of employment. Hostile environment takes place when unwelcome sexual conduct is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment interfering with job performance.
Both types of sexual harassment are actionable under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which also prohibits employer retaliation against employees who file a charge of sexual harassment with the EEOC or a claim in court (or participate in court proceedings involving accusations of sexual harassment).
Pregnancy discrimination is also a hot topic for women workers. Getting pregnant in today’s working world, rather than being a celebratory occasion, could cost a woman her job or a well-earned promotion. However, the law says that’s illegal.
According to Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not only is it illegal to discriminate against pregnant women at work, employers must also accommodate the pregnancy unless doing so would create an unfair business burden.
Recent controversy involving the pregnancy discrimination topic hit the Supreme Court in a case called Young v. United Parcel Services. In the case, a female worker was placed on unpaid leave after requesting accommodations for her pregnancy. The main issue was whether employers have the mandate to accommodate pregnant workers the same as they would any other worker with similar ability or inability to work.
The ‘similar ability or inability to work’ accommodation standard was an EEOC contribution. The agency put forward guidelines asserting the standard in recent years. However, the Supreme Court reexamined those guidelines in Young leaving the door open for employers to decide how pregnant workers should be accommodated based on simpler means of analysis.
Sexual Orientation Discrimination
LGBT rights have expanded undeniably, but, according to some, there is still much ground to cover in the area of employment discrimination. Activist and lawmakers alike have pushed for several years for a federal law that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but to no avail.
For women workers, employment discrimination occurs more frequently against gay men rather than toward lesbians. However, gay women are more likely to become victims of workplace harassment and violence due to their sexual identity than gay men.
The EEOC recently determined that sexual orientation claims are possible even without federal law in place. In 2015, it ruled that sexual orientation discrimination falls under the purview of sex discrimination prohibited in Title VII.
Glass Ceiling (Sex Discrimination)
Last but not least, is the proverbial glass ceiling, which comes to mind in almost any discussion about women workers in the U.S. and beyond. In the workplace, the glass ceiling, a reference to the challenges women face in breaking into all-male circles of authority and leadership, often boils down to acts of sex discrimination prohibited under federal and state laws.
The tricky part is for women workers is how to prove that glass ceiling challenges actually amount to sex discrimination. Many working women are reluctant to bring such cases to court. However, Title VII’s dictates against sex discrimination apply to all areas of employment, including hiring, firing, compensation and promotions, so taking steps to hold employers accountable does have well-established legal support.
Facing Employment Discrimination Issues for Working Women
Women make invaluable contributions to the workforce and have been doing so since the end of WWII, when the dynamics of war forced many women out of the home into the offices and factories of America. Yet, issues like the gender wage gap and sexual harassment present seemingly inescapable challenges for women workers striving to overcome the obstacles associated with the female status in the workplace.
It’s essential that women become thoroughly aware of employment discrimination rights and be prepared to combat discriminatory behavior from employers.