Labor and Employment

Laws Against Employment Discrimination in Rhode Island

By Lisa Guerin, ​J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley
Employees in Rhode Island are protected from workplace discrimination based on certain characteristics.

Employees in Rhode Island are protected from workplace discrimination based on certain traits, like race or disability. Congress and the Rhode Island legislature have decided that these traits, called protected characteristics, are not a fair basis for employment decisions—including who to hire, who to fire, and how much to pay employees. Below, we explain your rights under the state and federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination, including which employers must comply with the laws. (For more on this topic, see our employment discrimination and harassment page.)

Federal Laws Banning Employment Discrimination

Federal laws—including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act—protect employees in all 50 states against discrimination based on:

  • race
  • color
  • religion
  • sex
  • pregnancy
  • national origin
  • age (applies only to employees who are 40 years of age or older)
  • genetic information, or
  • physical or mental disability.

These federal laws make it illegal for employers of a certain size to discriminate in all aspects of employment, including hiring, benefits, promotions, pay, discipline, and termination. You are protected from discrimination if you work for a private employer with at least 15 employees (or 20 employees, for age discrimination).

Government employees are protected from discrimination, too. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to all federal, state, and local government employers. For other types of discrimination, all federal government employers are covered, and state and local government employers are covered if they have at least 15 employees.

Rhode Island Laws Banning Employment Discrimination

The Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices law has a broader reach: It applies to private employers with at least four employees and all state employers. Rhode Island’s Fair Employment Practices law prohibits discrimination based on:

  • age (if at least 40 years old)
  • ancestry or national origin
  • religion
  • gender
  • race or color
  • disability
  • sexual orientation, and
  • gender identity.

Separate Rhode Island laws prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information, AIDS/HIV status, and status as a victim of domestic abuse. Rhode Island also has a Homeless Bill of Rights, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants because they have no fixed address or because they use the address of a shelter or social service provider.

Agencies That Enforce Discrimination Laws

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the government agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination. The EEOC website provides details on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the primary federal law that prohibits employment discrimination, as well as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other federal laws. See Laws Enforced by EEOC for details. See our article on how to file an EEOC claim or visit the EEOC’s website for more information.

The Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights enforces the antidiscrimination provisions of the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices law. To learn more, visit the Commission’s website, which provides information on state laws prohibiting discrimination and the process for filing a complaint.

Finding an Employment Law Attorney in Rhode Island

If you believe you have been discriminated against at work, you should talk to an experienced Rhode Island employment lawyer. A lawyer can assess your situation, explain the laws that might apply, and evaluate the strength of your claims. A lawyer can also advise you on how to proceed, including filing a complaint or lawsuit, and what damages might be available if you win.

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