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Frequently Asked Questions About Employment

Q: I have a small company. Is it subject to the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965?
A: In the area of Employment, if you have 4 or more employees, your business comes under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

Q: What disabilities are covered by the Iowa Civil Rights Act?
A: A disability is covered if it meets all three of the following:

1. an impairment
2. which substantially limits, or is perceived as substantially limiting
3. a major life activity (such as walking, talking, learning, etc.)

Q: I feel I need an accommodation to continue my employment. What should I do?
A: If you need an accommodation, you may make that request of your employer to provide it. It is best to put your request in writing.

Q: Are there some cases where an employer would not have to provide an accommodation?
A: Yes. If the accommodation would be an "undue hardship" on the company. There are many factors which may contribute to the determination of whether an accommodation presents an "undue hardship" on a company.

Q: Is pregnancy covered under the Iowa Civil Rights Act?
A: Yes. Pregnancy is considered a temporary disability. Pregnant employees are entitled to the same benefits as other temporarily disabled employees. The Iowa Civil Rights Act requires that employers provide up to eight weeks of leave for their employees who are disabled by their pregnancy. See Iowa Code 216.6(2).

Q: What is harassment?
A: Harassing conduct is a form of discrimination. Harassment is behavior which has the effect of humiliating, intimidating, or coercing someone through personal attack. It is behavior that will make someone uncomfortable or embarrassed, and cause emotional distress. It frequently occurs when one person wants to exert power or control over another person.

Q: What is the definition of harassing conduct?
A: There are two types of harassing conduct. The first type is "environmental" or "hostile environment". The general definition of hostile environment is as follows: unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic which creates a hostile or abusive work environment.

The second type of harassing conduct is based on sex. It is called "quid pro quo" which means "this for that". The definition for quid pro quo harassment is as follows: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct where

  • submission to such conduct is made an implicit or explicit condition of an individual's employment, housing, public accommodations, etc., or
  • submission or rejection of such conduct affects the employment/housing/public accommodations opportunities.

Q: May individuals be liable as well as companies for harassing conduct?
A: Individuals may be named in a complaint and held liable for their conduct which falls outside the bounds of the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Businesses may be liable for the acts of their employees which fall outside the Iowa Civil Rights Act under certain circumstances.

Q: How can my business avoid liability for discrimination and/or harassing conduct?
A: (1) Have an anti-discrimination/harassment policy which includes a reasonable method of lodging complaints. (2) Make sure that all your employees are acquainted with the policy and procedure for lodging complaints. (3) Take any complaints which are lodged within the company seriously. (4) Appropriately enforce the policy. (5) Provide training for all employees about harassing conduct and discrimination.

Q: What is constructive discharge?
A: Constructive discharge occurs when someone quits their job because the work situation got so bad (intolerable) that he/she had to leave.

Q: People quit their jobs all the time because they don't like them. Does that mean that companies are breaking the law?
A: In order for a constructive discharge to be unlawful under civil rights law, the work environment must be intolerable because of unlawful basis discrimination. Many people hate their jobs because they have a bad boss, but those people are not justified in quitting unless:

1. they are a victim of unlawful basis discrimination,
2. they are a victim of unlawful harassment, or,
3. the work environment is "poisoned" by other discrimination where the person wanting to quit is not the direct victim.

Constructive discharge claims are often linked with a harassment claim. Constructive discharge always will have a preceding claim of some sort of discrimination.

Q: What is unlawful retaliation under the Iowa Civil Rights Act?
A: Retaliation occurs when an employee

1. participates in a civil rights investigation, either by filing a complaint or by giving information as a witness,
2. opposes an unlawful discriminatory act, or,
3. obeys the Iowa Civil Rights Act,
and the employer then adversely affects the employee's work relationship (such as, termination, demotion, or other conduct negatively impacting the employee's work relationship.)