Workplace Discrimination As a Public Health Issue: The Necessity of Title VII Protections for Volunteers

December 1, 2014

What constitutes an employee is a recurring issue in U.S. employment law, especially with respect to volunteers. Under Title VII, an employee is defined as “an individual employed by an employer.” The U.S. Supreme Court has found that this definition is circular and explains nothing. Given the vague statutory definition of “employee,” circuit courts are split over the correct test to determine employee status for the purposes of Title VII.

Workplace discrimination is especially toxic because the majority of the adult population spends its waking hours at work. Thus far, courts have been focused on the individual nature of workplace discrimination. However, the harms of such discrimination are borne beyond the targeted individual and negatively impact coworkers, families, employers, and society at large.

This Note argues that courts must reconceptualize workplace discrimination as a public health issue. Given the health implications, courts should reject the overly narrow threshold-remuneration test and adopt a broad definition of employee in the interest of public health.

December 2014

No. 3