Some companies assume wrongly that because they have less than 15 employees, they can treat their employees however they wish (including discriminating against them). However, such belief can be an expensive costly mistake.
While the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) and Title VII require a minimum of 15 employees in order to be sued for discrimination; many employers tend to forget about Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. 1981. Section 1981 prohibits discrimination on the basis of one’s race. Although Section 1981 was initially created to protect discrimination against blacks after slavery was abolished, it has expanded to include other ethnicities (i.e. Asian, Hispanic, etc.) and even religions. Essentially, Section 1981 has gone beyond just “racial” discrimination, to include some individuals who may be covered under the “national origin” or “religious” categories under Title VII and FCRA. Under Section 1981, there is no limit on how many employees a company must have, therefore, this opens up all companies in the United States to liability under this federal law.
Section 1981 does not explicitly include gender discrimination, the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) may protect some individuals who have suffered from gender discrimination (at the hand of an employer who employs less than 15 employees), but only for the portion of their claim based on a pay difference, due to their gender. Although the EPA does not cover all damages resulting from gender discrimination, it still opens up employers to liability, regardless of size, if part of the gender discrimination included a pay difference.
In summary, smaller employers shouldn’t rely on their lack of numbers to act recklessly in the workplace. We always advise employers to conduct themselves as if they were covered under federal and state laws in an abundance of caution – not only will they protect themselves, but it is also the right thing to do. If you have any questions, call Tom Thompson at 850-386-577.