Discrimination at Work and Keeping Your Employees Protected

Male employees judging female employee

Workplace discrimination can take many forms. It can involve discrimination against an entire group of people or against individual employees. While in some cases the signs of discrimination can be easily spotted, more often the signs are subtle and more difficult to detect. Discrimination can undermine people in their workplace, resulting in anxiety, depression, and other stress-related conditions. For employers, workplace discrimination claims an be costly, complicated, and have a harmful impact on a business’s reputation, morale, and bottom line. Thus, it is extremely important for employers to protect their employees from discrimination by recognizing signs of discrimination at work, understanding the different types of discrimination, and addressing potential discrimination issues effectively, efficiently, and with compassion.

Types of Discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects employees from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identify, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (age 40 or older), or genetic information. Broadly speaking the EEOC protects employees from discrimination at work when it involves any of the following:

  • Unfair treatment
  • Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in the workplace, resulting in a hostile work environment
  • Denial of reasonable workplace change that an employee needs because of his/her religious beliefs or disability
  • Improper questions about or disclosure of an employee’s genetic or medical information
  • Retaliation because an employee complained about job discrimination or assisted with a job discrimination proceeding, such as an investigation or lawsuit

Discrimination can take the form of refusing to hire, discharging, failing to promote, harassing, or discriminating against a person with respect to any other term, condition, or privilege of employment, based on, for example, the person’s race, sex, or sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs.

The EEOC enforces multiple federal laws prohibiting discrimination against a job applicant or employee during a variety of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, training, wages, and benefits, including:

Many state laws offer additional protections against employment-related discrimination. In Ohio, the Civil Rights Commission investigates charges of discrimination in employment within the state. The investigations cover all aspects of employment, including:

  • Job advertisement
  • Hiring process
  • Terms and conditions of work
  • Harassment
  • Discipline
  • Layoff/recall
  • Promotion/demotion
  • Termination

Signs of Discrimination at Work

Discrimination can be overt and easily detected, but more often than not the signs are subtle. Generally, if an employer is treating certain employees differently, such as providing additional benefits or perks to some individuals, or denying those perks to others, the employees may have a viable discrimination claim. Other signs of workplace discrimination include:

  • Lack of or minimal diversity: everyone in the workplace is the same race, gender, age, or sexual orientation.
  • Overlooked or denied promotions: an employer denies a promotion or pay raise despite other similarly-skilled, less qualified, or younger employees receiving the promotion.
  • Negative increase or decrease in workload: employer takes away key responsibilities from the employee or gives the employee impossible tasks to complete.
  • Fixed roles: the men in the workplace are all in managerial positions while the women remain in lower roles, particularly if the women have qualifications for a higher role but are never promoted.
  • High turnover rates: an employer that is constantly hiring and has a high rate of workers who quit may be a sign of mistreatment and discrimination.
  • Suspicious interview questions: an interviewer who asks questions that either directly reference a stereotype about a group of people or use language that indicates a veiled discriminatory world view will likely continue inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
  • Bogus discipline: employer unjustly criticizes an employee’s work or disciplines him or her unfairly in an attempt to establish a paper trail for termination.
  • Negative feedback: an employer makes unfounded claims about an employee’s performance when compared to others with similar issues.
  • Demeaning communication: employer consistently speaks to employees in a harsh or belittling tone, or makes offensive jokes and comments, especially in reference to race, gender, religion, age, or sexual orientation.

Addressing Potential Discrimination Issues

In an area where the law is constantly changing and evolving, employers have an ongoing obligation to train their staff to recognize and remedy discrimination. Complaints must be taken seriously and employers must devote time and resources to ensuring that their employees feel safe and comfortable in the workplace.

The EEOC recommends best practices for employers to prevent discrimination, including training employees on anti-discrimination laws, promoting an inclusive culture, fostering open communication, and establishing neutral and objective criteria to avoid subjective employment decisions based on personal stereotypes or hidden biases. As to recruitment, hiring, and promotion, the EEOC recommends diversifying the pool of candidates, self-monitoring for equal employment opportunity, ensuring that selection criteria do not disproportionately exclude certain groups, and ensuring that promotion criteria are disclosed and that job openings are communicated to all eligible employees.

With respect to terms, conditions, and privileges of employment, the EEOC recommends monitoring compensation practices and performance appraisal systems for patterns of potential discrimination, providing training and mentoring for workers of all backgrounds, and protecting employees from retaliation. As to harassment, the EEOC recommends adopting a strong anti-harassment policy, with periodic training and vigorous enforcement, as well as a clear explanation of prohibited conduct, including specific examples, a complaint process with guaranteed confidentiality, and assurance that immediate and appropriate corrective action will be taken in the event harassment has occurred.

How an Employment Discrimination Attorney Can Help

If you are concerned about a potential employment discrimination issue or a claim has been made against you, we welcome you to contact us.