'Working Wounded': What Is Title VII?

D E A R R E A D E R S: Recently, a British ad agency paid students $20 to walk around in public for three hours with a logo temporarily tattooed on their foreheads.

Those ads worked because something written on someone's forehead is hard to miss. It also brings into play once of the reasons it can be so challenging to hire an employee — you've got to look past all that's hard to miss (their race, color, sex, etc.).

In the United States, protection from workplace discrimination is covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. You may be surprised at how many workers are covered by it. Title VII is the third most important workplace law in our series. (Last week we covered the fourth most important workplace law, the OSH Act.)

For an employee, Title VII is there to ensure they have the fairest opportunity for employment. For an employer, ignoring or skirting the title can be costly.

In 2002, more than 61,000 charges alleging violations under Title VII were filed, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. While only a mild increase from the 55,000 in 1992, the amount awarded to plaintiffs nearly tripled, from $52.5 million in 1992 to $141.7 million last year. Plus, there's the untold damage to productivity and morale when such situations arise.

Employers, I've included everything you need to know to stay on the right side of Title VII below. For more, check out The Employer's Legal Handbook by Fred Steingold (Nolo Press, 2003).

Inside Title VII

Who is covered under Title VII?

Any company with more than 15 employees (full- or part-time).

What does Title VII require?

You can't use race, religion, color, sex, national origin or pregnancy as a basis for hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, job assignments, employee classification, transfer, promotion, layoff or recall, training, use of company facilities, retirement plan or leave.

Are their any exceptions to the law?

Yes, there are bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ). Steingold gives an example of a company hiring someone to work in a men's room. It's reasonable in this situation to limit the job to only male applicants (unless the bathroom is in Ally McBeal's old law firm). On the other hand, the courts ruled that age is not a BFOQ for being a flight attendant, because a 45-year-old applicant could do the same job as a 25-year-old applicant. If you are claiming a BFOQ, be sure there is a very good reason.

Is the Civil Rights law the only law protecting people from discrimination at work?

No. There are also the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Immigration Reform and Control Act, Equal Pay Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and the National Labor Relations Act.

Who enforces Title VII?

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). Workers can file a complaint with the EEOC or their state's fair employment agency.

Are employees protected from retaliation?

Yes, Title VII has protections for employees who file a compliant under Title VII.

What are the penalties for companies that discriminate?

Companies have been forced to rehire, promote or reassign workers, provide compensation for lost salary and benefits, pay damages for emotional suffering and change company policies. And if that's not enough, companies have actually been made to pay their employees legal costs — talk about adding insult to injury.

Use your head when hiring and you won't have to worry about the EEOC trying to semi-permanently tattoo you or your company.

Online Ballot and Contest

Here are the results from a recent workingwounded.com/ABCNEWS.com online ballot: What is the most important trait that employers are looking for?

Who you know; 8 percent How little they can pay you; 17.5 percent What you know; 27.5 percent How hard you're willing to work; 46.7 percent

Winning Strategy

Our winning strategy for figuring out what employers are looking for comes from Roger W. in Los Angeles. "There is so much information on companies out there. You can visit their Web site, visit their locations, go to your public library, etc. I can't understand why so many people go into interviews not knowing anything about the place where they supposedly want to work. Job seekers, show some initiative. Learn something about a potential employer and, trust me, it will be the best investment you've ever made."

List of the Week

Bob Rosner is the author of the Wall Street Journal business best seller, The Boss's Survival Guide (McGraw Hill, 2001), a speaker, and founder of the award-winning workingwounded.com & RetentionEvangelist.com. E-mail him at bob@RetentionEvangelist.com.

ABCNEWS.com publishes a new Working Wounded column every Friday.