Employment Law Basics: Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty of Title VII

Employment laws can be confusing and downright scary.

They don’t have to be. As a public service, from now until my special Halloween webinar Answers to the World’s Scariest Employment Law Questions, I’ll be tackling each major law one by one to give you what you REALLY need to know. By the end, you’ll have handy one-page cheat sheets for each and every law and your terror level will be reduced to zero.

Today’s Topic: Title VII

Here is basically everything you need to know about Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) in one handy post.


What employers are covered?

Those with 15 or more employees.

What’s prohibited?

  • Termination or failure to hire on account of race, sex, national origin, color or religion.
  • Discrimination with respect to any term or condition of employment.
  • Retaliation for engaging in protected activity.
  • Harassment.
  • Adverse impacts against a protected class.

What is an “adverse impact?”

A policy or action that is facially neutral but nevertheless adversely affects a protected class.

What is a “bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ)?”

If an employer can demonstrate that all or substantially all of a protected class cannot perform a specific function, it may discriminate on that basis.

What are some examples of “terms or conditions” of employment?

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  • Promotions;
  • Wages;
  • Employment benefits.

May an employer take adverse action against protected individuals?

Yes, so long as it bases its decision on a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason.

What type of harassment is prohibited?

  • Quid pro quo: certain benefits of employment are conditioned on sexual demands by the victim’s supervisor.
  • Hostile work environment: workplace is permeated with severe and pervasive insult, intimidation and ridicule.
  • See Harassment Cheat Sheet for more.

Examples of “protected activity”

  • Filing of a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or a state.
  • Complaining to employer about purported discrimination.
  • Acting as a witness in connection with a discrimination investigation.

What are the potential penalties?

  • Back and/or front pay;
  • Compensatory damages;
  • Reinstatement;
  • Punitive damages;
  • Attorneys’ fees.

Top Title VII tips

  • Include anti-discrimination/harassment policies in your employee handbook.
  • Apply employment policies consistently to all employees and applicants.
  • Provide annual harassment training.
  • Document all disciplinary actions.
  • Don’t inflate performance reviews.
  • Take all complaints of discrimination and harassment seriously.
  • Take prompt remedial action if discrimination or harassment is proven.
  • Recognize that some state anti-discrimination laws provide greater protection.
  • Don’t give contradictory or unprovable reasons for an adverse employment action.

Stay tuned for more. Tomorrow we’ll de-scare-ify Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

This was originally published on Manpower Group’s Employment Blawg.

Mark Toth has served as Manpower Group North America's Chief Legal Officer since 2000. He also serves on the company’s Global Leadership Team, Global Legal Lead Team and North American Lead Team. Mark is recognized as an expert on legal issues affecting the U.S. workplace and is frequently quoted in media from The Wall Street Journal to 60 Minutes. He is also a past Chair of the American Staffing Association and is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources. Contact him at mark.toth@manpowergroup.com.


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