In a recent post on an upcoming employment and labor law update, we discussed a new regulation prohibiting Federal Contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender, a regulation set to take effect on April 4, 2015. What if you don’t meet the qualifications of a Federal Contractor? Do these rules pertaining to discrimination still apply to you?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the primary federal laws governing discrimination; sexual discrimination being the negative treatment of an individual based on their sex. This law prohibits discrimination as it pertains to any aspect of the employment process, including: hiring, firing, pay, promotions, terminations, benefits, job assignments and duties, and any other condition or term of employment.

While Title VII prohibits sex discrimination based on an individual’s sex, it also prohibits discrimination against an individual who is transgender, also known as gender identity discrimination. However, violations against individuals who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual are not clearly defined as prohibited. Nevertheless, sexual discrimination and harassment claims can be brought about if an employment practice has a negative impact on the employment of individuals of a certain sex, the treatment creates a hostile work environment, or it results in an adverse employment decision, such as the individual in question being terminated.

There is quite a bit of gray area with regards to this particular aspect of Title VII, particularly as it relates to evolving laws at the state level. The EEOC has recognized that the intentional discrimination against a person based on their sexual orientation can be “proved to be grounded in sex-based norms, preferences, expectations or stereotypes.”

Regardless of whether you are a Federal Contractor or not, Title VII and all of its facets applies to employers with more than 15 employees. What if your organization employs 13 individuals, or you are part of a very small office crew of 4? What protections apply to you or your employees if you find yourself in a difficult situation? Stay tuned for our next Nuts-and-Bolts post, in which we address how to manage discrimination when federal protections do not apply to you.