There are both state and federal laws that protect employees against discrimination. In New Hampshire, employment discrimination includes refusing to hire someone, firing someone, paying someone less, and other differences “in terms, conditions or privileges of employment.” The discrimination must be based on one of the traits listed below and not an occupational qualification like education or work experience.
New Hampshire law specifically prohibits discrimination in employment based on:
- Gender identity, protecting transgender individuals
- Sexual orientation, protecting both gay and lesbian people
- National origin
- Religion (“creed”)
- Marital status
- Physical disability
- Mental disability
- Being the victim of sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence or stalking
The protections against sex discrimination also cover pregnancy.
Employers are also required to make “reasonable accommodation” for physical or mental limitations unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would be “an undue hardship.” For example, it is reasonable to expect an employer to provide a chair for a pregnant employee operating a cash register.
Enforcing employment discrimination in NH
New Hampshire’s employment discrimination law only applies to workplaces with six or more employees. There are exceptions for religious organizations.
The New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights is responsible for investigating and enforcing employment discrimination violations. An employee generally has 180 days after an incident to file with the Commission.
In 2014 then-Governor Maggie Hassan signed a stricter law against pay inequity between men and women. The bill, SB 207, also made it illegal for an employer to punish employees who discuss their pay. SB 207 also increased the amount of time for an employee to file a complaint with the state about unequal pay based on sex.
Another 2014 bill made it illegal to discriminate against an employee because he or she is the victim of domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking.
In 2018, the state added gender identity to the list of protected statuses in New Hampshire.
Federal law in the United States also prohibits discrimination at the workplace for many of the same classes of people who are protected at the state level in New Hampshire. It applies to any business with fifteen or more employees.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency responsible for investigating and enforcing employment discrimination violations.
Do New Hampshire employees need more protections?
In recent years New Hampshire legislators have tried to expand employment discrimination laws in a few different ways. In other states, laws have successfully been passed that expand employment discrimination protections in the following ways:
- Limit employers' use of credit history in employment decisions
- "Ban the Box" by prohibiting employers from asking applicants about past criminal convictions at the beginning of the hiring process (often through a checkbox on an application).
- Increase the amount of time after an incident that an employee has to file a discrimination complaint
- Cap damages in employment discrimination lawsuits
- Prohibit discrimination based on political beliefs
“Yes, NH should pass stricter laws prohibiting pay and hiring discrimination.”
- Employment discrimination is still a widespread problem, even though laws against discrimination have been in place for decades. For example, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families, women working full-time in New Hampshire earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. That is the largest gender pay gap in New England. The data show an even worse experience for women of color. In 2017, Asian women were paid 73 cents and Latinas were paid 64 cents and for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in New Hampshire. So long as discrimination is still a problem, there is room for improvement in anti-discrimination laws.
- As we evolve as a society, it is important to acknowledge that discrimination changes, too. New Hampshire needs to update its laws to protect newly acknowledged groups.
- The employer-employee relationship, by its very nature, gives employers more power. After all, New Hampshire is an at-will state, which means that unless there is a contract, employers do not need cause to terminate an employee. The state must equalize the power imbalance for employees to be able to fight discrimination. This includes giving employees more access to information about pay and more time to file complaints.
- Supporters of “Ban the Box” argue that people with past criminal convictions are often unjustly screened out, which makes it more difficult for them to secure a job and reenter society.
- Supporters argue that credit history is private, personal information that should not be open to employers. They also argue that if bad credit history prevents a worker from finding employment, it becomes even more difficult for that worker to improve his or her credit history, creating a spiral of debt.
“No, NH should not pass stricter laws prohibiting pay and hiring discrimination.”
- Pay gaps will not be solved through lawmaking, since much of the difference in pay is due to career choices. For example, women are more likely to take time off to care for children, which slows their career progress. There are also more women employed in fields that pay less, such as education and administrative support. Regardless, statistics show that the gender pay gap is shrinking.
- Courts have the flexibility to interpret existing anti-discrimination laws to fit new situations.
- Some anti-discrimination laws make it more likely that employees will see discrimination where none exists. For example, employees discussing pay are unlikely to have complete and accurate information. By forbidding employers from limiting how employees discuss pay, New Hampshire law increases the likelihood of workplace conflict and frivolous lawsuits.
- If employees are given years before they must file a discrimination complaint, it becomes less likely that the employer will have accurate information about that employee’s time with the business. Employees should be required to file discrimination complaints promptly to ensure that both sides have complete and accurate information.
- Employment discrimination laws contribute to the excess of lawsuits in the United States, which force employers to raise prices for products and services for all Americans.
- It is very reasonable for employers to consider past criminal convictions depending on the job and the crime. For example, an armored truck company should not be prevented from turning away a former bank robber. Similarly, some jobs require employees to manage money, and a bad credit history may indicate an employee is not up to the task or that the individual is not trustworthy.