You’re the Boss Now; Know These Employment Anti-Discrimination Laws

Sure, you’ve been schooled in the vital issue of equity for students, but never forget that equity is a workplace matter, too.

Topics: School Management

Typically, early-career principals are acquainted with laws that help ensure equity and protect against discrimination against students, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Yet lost in many graduate principal preparation programs is the host of anti-discrimination laws that apply to a principal’s work as an employer. Here are just some the significant laws that principals, especially those starting out in their careers, must be aware of.

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act/Americans with Disabilities Act: Section 504 plans aren’t only for students. Section 504 protects against disability discrimination against employees in public schools, too. You must make an accommodation if an employee or prospective employee who can otherwise do the job has a disability that can be reasonably accommodated, such as providing an accessible classroom.
  • Anti-Discrimination and Civil Rights Statutes: Numerous federal and state statutes prevent discrimination in the workplace based on race, religion, sex, age, marital status, or sexual orientation, among others. Yes, this kind of discrimination still happens. For instance, education leaders talk about getting “youthful teachers” into their classes. But age is a protected class, meaning that someone over 40 can bring a claim that an employment decision was based on age, not ability.
  • Union Protected Activity: If your state allows union activity, it is important to treat the union rep and union members as you would all others. If you don’t, someone could claim that you are interfering with an employee’s right to organize and other “protected activity.”
  • Retaliation Claims: This is the BIG trap for many principals, especially new ones. For instance, some principals might resent the “special protections” awarded a teacher who won a Section 504 claim, so they start taking away other things to “balance it all out” or seek vengeance. They might take small actions that add up: denial of bonus, extra lunch-duty assignments, or petty things (or maybe not-so-petty things). If you are singling someone out because they sought to enforce a right, then it is retaliation—and that is against the law.

How to Protect Yourself

You do not have hire someone because they are in a protected class. However, you must not discriminate against them because they may be in such a class. Every job application or decision regarding an employee must be based on the person’s merits. Always have bona fide reasons for employment decisions, including hiring, firing, and transfers. In many cases, this means a record of evaluation, or a decision grounded in fact and evidence.

Many early principals are aware of the laws and practices protecting students from discrimination. But remember, as you step into your role as an employer, you must follow the laws protecting employees from discrimination, too.