The Chicago Employment Law Blog

Can Your Small Employer Discriminate with Impunity?

You may have read all the cases about big money judgments in employment discrimination and harassment cases. But before you get too worked up over a perceived workplace slight, you should know the rules about employers who are covered by discrimination laws.

While most people know there are laws out there that prohibit employers from discriminating against you for your race, sex, religion, or other protected characteristic, few people know that these laws don't apply to all employers.

In fact, if you ever talk to an employment attorney about a workplace problem, the first question the lawyer should ask you is "how many people work at your company?"

Generally, under federal law, if a complaint against a private employer involves race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, the employer is only required to comply with the anti-discrimination laws if it has 15 or more employees. For age discrimination, the employer only has to follow the laws if it has 20 or more employees.

So if your workplace is a mom-and-pop shop, you're probably not protected by the federal discrimination laws.

In Illinois, we also have state laws that cover discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately for employees of small private businesses, the state law largely tracks federal law with one exception -- any employer with one or more employees cannot engage in disability discrimination or sexual harassment.

Not all employers are required to comply with federal or even state discrimination laws. Only mid- and large-sized employers are covered, and if you've been discriminated against by a small employer, you might just be out of luck.

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