How to Identify Workplace Discrimination

Identifying workplace discrimination is often easier than proving discrimination or harassment. What is discrimination? For employers, supervisors, and other policy-makers this may be the most important article they will read this year.

Employer responsibilities & precautions

Employers are responsible for providing their employees a safe and stress-free workplace and prescribing policies that discourage discrimination and harassment. Employers must be cognitive of the early warning signs of discrimination, harassment, and bullying in their workplaces.

A good starting point to alleviate some of the anxiety and stress in the workplace is to review current workplace policies regarding discrimination and publishing the edited results. Let supervisors know what you expect from them when harassment or bullying starts. Proactive employers will have a more peaceful workplace that is more productive and will encourage employees to stay put. A stressful environment that allows bullying will give your employees a reason to look for other employment and will result in new hires, more training costs, and decreased production.

The employer needs to let their supervisors and managers know they must be approachable and intolerant of bullying and off-color jokes that are usually the starting point for harassment. Let your employees know that retaliation for reporting incidents of harassment or discrimination will not be tolerated.

Interaction by management with employees is vital to employee-employer relations. When a cheerful shop suddenly becomes sullen, it is usually a sign that there is something wrong. Speaking with a cheerful, talkative employee could gain insight into what is going on there; however, if that employee clams up, that could be a sign of something seriously wrong in your shop.

What is workplace discrimination?

Unfair treatment could be the opposite of what most think of as discrimination. The ethnic employer that employs and provides better employment benefits only to those in his ethnicity is also discriminating.

There are several government regulations that protect workers from discrimination. The most notable federal regulation is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; however, there are many more including:

  • Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 Title I & V.
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which deals with federal employees with disabilities.
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991, which deals with intentional workplace discrimination.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The Civil Rights Act gives the EEOC powers to enforce Title VII of the Act. Title VII prohibits the wrongful discrimination or differential treatment of employees based on race, religion, national origin, sex, and color. These five categories of discrimination formed the basis of the original Act. The Act has been amended many times since 1964 to keep pace with society and protect individual against discrimination. Additional human characteristics that are included in employment law safeguards include age (over 40), disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identification, and genetic information.

What is workplace harassment?

Bullying or workplace harassment is illegal violence, such as stalking, assault, or battery, or the reasonable threat of violence, and those threats or actions that severely annoys or scares an individual for no legitimate reason.

An employer is liable automatically when a supervisor’s harassment results in the unfavorable employment actions against an individual, such as loss of salary or wages, termination, non-promotion, or denial of benefits. When a manager’s harassment leads to a hostile work environment, an employer can avert responsibility only when they can: a) prove a reasonable effort was made to correct or prevent the behavior; b) the employee declined prevention or corrective measures, which were provided by management or the employer. This harassment includes staff, independent contractors, and/or customers if it was known or should have been obvious to the employer.

When looking at harassment, the EEOC will investigate the entire circumstances of the complaint; therefore, it is prudent to keep a record the events, no matter how trivial, with dates, times, witnesses, and a short narrative of the details. This includes work-related events such as an office or holiday party held off-site.

Petty annoyances or isolated events of minor incidents will not be judged harassment unless there is continuous conduct which creates a hostile, or intimidating workplace.

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination occurs when employers are blunt about their hiring procedures, policies, and discriminatory behavior. This most often occurs in “at-will” employment scenarios or states that allow employees to terminate at-will, or as they please. However, at-will does not include illegal termination or denial of employment benefits due to unlawful methods. The EEOC and other enforcement agencies will not allow employment discrimination, harassment, or bullying. This is contrary to a healthy economy that reduces unemployment.

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination occurs when employers or management write a policy that indirectly discriminates against a group of people simply by the wording in the policy. For example, policies that require employees to be clean shaven indirectly discriminate against Sikhs because they must wear uncut hair under a turban. This can be judged either religious or national origin discrimination, either of which is unlawful.

How do I file a complaint?

Employees may not file a civil suit claiming discrimination without first giving the EEOC an opportunity to do their job. You must first file a Charge of Discrimination at your nearest EEOC office or call, 1-800-669-4000 (voice) and (TTY) 1-800-669-6820. Individual who need accommodations, such as interpreters or wheelchair access should notify the EEOC office prior to your appointment.