Workplace Discrimination

Employees working for companies that employ more than four employees are covered by Rhode Island discrimination laws and cannot discriminate based on an employee’s religion, sex, race, color, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, or an employee’s status as a domestic abuse victim or HIV patient.

Not only are current employees covered, but applicants are likewise protected by the discrimination laws and are entitled to the same rights as current employees. Moreover, current employees are protected during all aspects of employment, including: transfers, compensation, job assignments, time-off, and retirement plans.

Employees should also be aware that they cannot be retaliated against for exercising their rights. Employees who complain of workplace discrimination are protected from adverse employer action. Employers cannot retaliate under any circumstances, even if it is later determined that the employee’s claim of discrimination is baseless.

What if an employee is discriminated against but it is unintentional?

Both intentional and unintentional forms of discrimination are banned. Unintentional discrimination can occur where neutral employment practices have a disparate impact on a protected class in a disproportionate and unfair way. For instance, if an employer is selecting candidates for hire in a way that is not intended to hurt women, but ends up causing fewer women to be hired than men, it can still be found to be unlawful discrimination.

The neutral practice will only be allowed if it is legitimately related to the job. For instance, if a job requires lifting heavy objects, it may be necessary for an employee to possess a certain amount of strength. This could mean women are discriminated against. However, since it can be said to be a necessary component of the job, it will be allowed.

What can employees do if they think they have been discriminated against?

Many employers have mechanisms for reporting discrimination. They do this because an employee’s failure to take advantage of these mechanisms can be a defense to a discrimination claim. Therefore, employees should always take advantage of any procedures HR has in place. Many times the company will investigate and take immediate action, possibly remedying the situation.


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