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What Are the Legal Rights of a Job Applicant?

February 1st, 2022
Delaware County Employment Discrimination Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C., Protect Job Applicants and Employees from Workplace Discrimination.

Finding and getting hired for a new job is not an easy process, and when an employer uses discriminatory hiring practices, it can put an applicant at a serious disadvantage with others competing for the same job. In many cases, applicants are not even aware that they are being treated wrongly and move on to pursue work opportunities with other companies. This can cost them a lot of time and money that they might have had if they were treated fairly in the first place. Job applicants are entitled to certain rights, and if you believe that you faced employment discrimination during a hiring process, you could be correct and your rights may have been violated.

Even before they get hired, job applicants are protected by federal laws. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against job applicants based on race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, pregnancy, age, and other protected categories such as sexual orientation. These laws are in effect during every phase of a hiring process, beginning from that first ad posted until the final selection is made.

Exactly What Are Employers Prohibited from Doing?

Have you ever read a posting that specifies that a company is seeking “recent college graduates” or “females?” This is usually done to discourage certain people from applying, such as those over the age of 40 and men. This kind of preference, or discouragement, is prohibited, but those phrases still show up in postings. If an applicant progresses to the interview stage, they may be asked questions that employers are supposed to avoid. This can be very awkward, so it is important to know what kind of employee inquiries should be off the table. Questions pertaining to the following are prohibited by federal laws:

  • Marital or family status
  • Race, ethnicity, or nationality
  • Religious beliefs
  • Citizenship status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Any history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Physical or mental disabilities
  • Age, unless the applicant must be of a certain legal age to perform the job responsibilities

Throughout the pre-employment process, companies are only supposed to ask questions about things necessary to establish that the applicant is qualified for the job. Questions about the person’s background should be the same for all applicants, such as asking about the employment history, skills, and where they attended college. Employers are not banned from inquiring about applicant criminal histories, but there are federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws that disallow companies from discriminating against applicants who share their criminal history information. States also have their own laws that apply in these cases.

Can a Prospective Employer Require Tests and Background Checks?

It is commonplace for employers to require job applicants to complete different kinds of tests to establish which candidates are best fits for the positions. There might be skills tests, personality and psychological tests, and drug screenings. Any that are administered must be related to and necessary for the job responsibilities and cannot be designed to exclude any protected categories. The tests must be given to all qualified applicants, no matter their race, religion, or other personal attributes.

Employers are within their rights to perform background checks on job applicants, and in many cases they must do so for security reasons. However, there are limitations of which you should be aware. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) both enforce federal laws that apply to background checks. There is also the Federal Bankruptcy Act; this prohibits potential employers from basing hiring decisions on an applicant’s past debt or bankruptcy filing.

The most common ways to get legal background checks are through criminal background reports and credit reports. However, before these can be initiated, employers must get an applicant’s permission before proceeding with a background report; this must be provided in writing. Once these reports are obtained, the employer then needs to provide the applicant with copies and also must provide a notice of rights.  The latter lets the applicant know how the reporting company can be contacted.

What if I Was Hired but the Onboarding Process Was Discriminatory?

Employers are also obligated to perform certain tasks to help new hires transition smoothly into their new workplaces. It is not all that unusual for a company to hire someone and have second thoughts for the wrong reasons; they can then make the things so difficult that the new employee starts to wonder if they even want to work there. To start, new employees should receive help with obtaining federal employment identification numbers if that is applicable; help with registering for employee benefits should also be forthcoming.

Companies are also responsible for registering new workers with the state employment department to determine their workers’ unemployment compensation taxes, also reported to the IRS, and also have to arrange the payroll withholding taxes. Most employers will also need to have Workers’ Compensation insurance and an illness and prevention plan for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Finally, employers should have their policies and all notices posted in an easily seen area.

Sometimes, employers make promises to new employees throughout a hiring process, such as a salary review after six months, a certain amount of paid time off, or a private office in a satellite location in a certain city. It is wise to request all of this in writing before accepting the job; an employment contract should include all of these details, as well as detailed information about the health plan. Unless the employer specifies that some aspects of the position are subject to change, they could be sued for a breach of an implied employment contract.

What Rights Do I Have as an Employee?

Even if you are hired without being discriminated against, this does not mean that your workplace will always be free from this kind of bias. The EEOC enforces laws that apply to job applicants and workers in the United States, regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time, temporary, or seasonal, regardless of their work authorization or citizenship status. Individuals who are employed by companies that have at least 15 workers, federal government agencies, employment, and unions are covered, and the protections fall into five groups.

Employees are entitled to work in harassment-free workplaces; discrimination based on any of the protected categories is prohibited. Should an employee complain that they are being illegally discriminated against, the accused employer cannot harass that employee, treat them differently, or punish them in any way; this is referred to as protection from employee retaliation.

The third category concerns keeping an employee’s medical information private. The EEOC limits the kinds of questions that employers can ask about your health, and if any of this, including genetic information, is shared, employers cannot discuss it with anyone else, with only a few very limited exceptions. Also, if you need to request reasonable changes to your work responsibilities because of a medical condition or religious beliefs, your employer is required to consider it. Unless the request is detrimental to the business in some way and they are legitimately unable to do so, they should make an effort to accommodate you.

Of course, employers are also responsible for providing safe workplaces that are free of hazards. Depending on where you work, there may be other workplace rights that are part of your company’s polices, or additional local, state, and federal laws. Some of these might include minimum hourly wages and workday lengths. Be sure to read your employment contract and employment handbook completely before considering any kind of discrimination claim.

Delaware County Employment Discrimination Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C., Protect Job Applicants and Employees from Workplace Discrimination

Even though the past years have brought improvements to workplace hiring and employment practices, applicant and employee discrimination is still a very real problem. You do not have to put up with this kind of treatment. The experienced Delaware County employment discrimination lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C., can listen to your case and advocate for your rights. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.

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