Workplace discrimination is not new to the workplace. So why are claims on the rise in the workplace. There are three primary reasons that are new to the issue:
- Whenever there is a need to conduct layoffs, employees ask “Why me?” In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, mass layoffs happened very abruptly and spanned businesses of every size in every industry. This caused employers to decide who would be included in a layoff, furlough, or termination very quickly as they were forced to shut down all or parts of their companies with little notice. Communication was sudden and limited, creating a perception of discrimination in the choices that had to be made.
- The new adjustments to our work lives are major, including remote work, returning to the workplace a few at a time, having to homeschool children or provide care for aging adults who are high risk and may not be able to go out and take care of things like shopping for groceries due to potential exposure. Although employers are trying to make decisions that may seem to be in the individual employee’s best interest based on some of these factors, it can also lead to discrimination complaints.
- Social unrest and high anxiety as mistreatment based on discrimination is at the forefront of our media stories and is causing people to take a closer look at what they previously believe was just the norm that they had to contend with, but now may cause them to consider whether it is actually discriminatory behavior. And the voice won’t and shouldn’t get quieter. Instead, employers need to take greater steps and implement more effective communication to ensure not only prevention but incorrect perceptions.
Although some forms of employment discrimination are more obvious than others, we need to take a look at each of these in a new light with a broader scope to determine how discrimination may creep into areas of work that we haven’t previously experienced.
Employee protections from discrimination in the workplace fall under federal laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as state and local Fair Employment laws. But at a much higher level than that, locating areas of potential workplace discrimination in your organization and taking action toward improvement, can protect employers from damaging hits to the company reputation resulting in difficulties recruiting and keeping good talent and loss of customers. For some useful tips on preventing exposure to claims in your organization, read “The Best Way to Avoid EEOC Claims“.
Although this may not be a fully inclusive list of potential types of workplace discrimination, the examples provide can be useful in determining where there is additional work to be done. You can also find information on specifically significant discrimination cases on the EEOC website.
Types of Workplace Discrimination
- People make comments in the breakroom about the smell of the food someone eats which is part of their ethnic background.
- A particular manager or department does not promote employees of color into high level management positions or provide learning opportunities in order to make them ready for such upper level positions.
- Treating employees differently in the workplace because of something others of the same race are doing outside the workplace that is upsetting.
- Patterns of lower pay for similar work to workers a particular gender.
- Comments in the workplace such as, “Have Sara do that. That’s women’s work”. Or, “Have Isaac do that. We wouldn’t want to Julie get hurt and file a Worker’s Comp claim”.
- Suggestions that a sales employee might book more deals if they dressed a little sexier”.
- Asking an employee who has applied for a promotion, “Shouldn’t you be planning to retire soon?
- Refusing to hire workers under a certain age because “their generation” doesn’t know anything about hard work.
- Moving job responsibilities from an older worker to a younger worker because the older worker is more likely to get hurt.
- Requiring women to wear skirts or dresses when it is not directly related to business need.
- Hiring women only for administrative work because they are generally better at that type of work.
- Limiting the number of women in the company because they will likely have children and need to take leave more frequently and may not come back to work.
Sexual Orientation Discrimination
- Avoiding hiring individuals perceived to be LGBTQ because of the increased potential for workplace issues or to avoid conflicts with other workers.
- Requiring transgender individuals to use a particular restroom or use the restroom only when it is completely empty.
- Restricting a gay or lesbian employee from speaking about or sharing pictures of their spouse so as not to make others uncomfortable.
- Avoiding hiring candidates with a military background because they are presumed to be more prone to violence.
- Not hiring a female soldier because she must be a lesbian if she chose that job.
- Not hiring a current reservist because it would be hard on the company to grant them leave if they are deployed.
- No hiring an employee in a wheelchair because you don’t want to have to make building accommodations.
- Requiring a worker with a social or mental disability to eat at a different time or in a different place to not make others uncomfortable.
- Not hiring an obese individual because it is assumed they will miss a lot of work due to medical issues.
Nation Origin Discrimination
- Refusing to hire any Asian workers because they might be carrying COVID-19.
- Keeping an employee from India below any management level positions because it may be seen to customers as a potential terrorist threat to have them on your team.
- Keeping workers with accents out of positions where they deal with customers or the public because they may be difficult to understand.
- Requiring women to go on leave at 7 months because you assume they will not be able to continue working through the end of their pregnancy.
- Failing to return a woman returning from Parental Leave into the same or equivalent position because she will likely just have another baby before long and go out on leave again.
- Asking a job candidate if she is currently pregnant or planning to become pregnant in the near future.
- Disallowing a male worker to have a beard when his religion does not allow him to shave it.
- Only allowing workers that wear headcovers for religious reasons to work in the back where they are not exposed to customers.
- Refuse a time off request to observe a religious holiday because you don’t believe in that religion.
Employers must examine all forms of potential discrimination to ensure fair and equitable treatment to all of their workers. It is especially important to learn about the unconscious bias that we all have inside of us to some extent, as that will help us determine where we need to put the most effort. And remember, perception that someone falls into a specific category and treating them based on that perception, is still discrimination and must be prevented.
Over the next few weeks, we will be looking deeper into the most predominant forms of discrimination in the workplace to determine what the law requires, how the offenses have changed over time, recently heard cases, and specific steps employers can take to reduce and in time prevent unwanted behaviors from infecting their company culture.
If you have a question, example, or situation you would like included, please add your comments and we will do the best we can to address your matter.