Understanding the Grounds for Discrimination in the Workplace and How to Prevent it

Know what constitutes workplace discrimination, so your entire team is protected, from your lowest-ranked employees to the top managers. Avoid any inconveniences by being on the right side of the law.

Workplace discrimination is a real human resource concern. It affects all kinds of organizations, from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to large multinational companies.

If an employee sues your company over alleged discrimination, the result is a PR disaster. That is on top of financial inconveniences and the emotional and psychological toll the case will bring upon your entire team.

Meanwhile, the situation is just as taxing to the alleged aggrieved party. They have to deal with the legal proceedings that will ensue when the complaint is officially made. And that requires money, time, and lots of physical effort.

An employment discrimination case takes at least two to three years before a resolution is reached. A suitable settlement agreed upon by both parties will expedite the process. That notwithstanding, it’s a business nuisance that is best avoided.

Before we proceed to the pertinent details of this subject, let us first discuss some recent high profile workplace discrimination cases.

  • Amazon- Just this year, Amazon faced multiple charges related to workplace discrimination. In October, a transgender man named Shaun Simmons sued the company over harassment charges. He also claimed that he was denied promotion after revealing his pregnancy to his manager.
  • Bloomberg – Former reporter Nafeesa Syeed sued the company over allegedly practicing a promotion and pay culture biased against women of color.
  • Facebook – Two rejected applicants and a Facebook recruiter alleged that Facebook was discriminatory against black applicants and employees. The complaint was formally filed with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
  • Hearst – In September, the company behind Esquire was sued by ad executive Lauren Johnson. The complainant claimed she experienced age and gender discrimination in the company. At the age of 52, Lauren shared that older workers were mocked at Hearst.
Workplace discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace happens when certain prejudices dictate how managers and leaders treat certain employees. If you deal with a particular employee differently than the rest of your team because of the following reasons, you’re at risk of overstepping the bounds of law:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion or belief
  • Race
  • Marriage and partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity

The Equality Act of 2010 singled out these characteristics and they make up the grounds for workplace discrimination.

Direct vs. indirect discrimination

Workplace discrimination manifests in two ways. Direct discrimination happens when there’s grossly unfair treatment of employees based on any of the listed characteristics above. For example, if you denied a person with a disability the promotion they deserve, simply because they’re in a wheelchair and it’s more convenient for you to promote an able-bodied staff member, you are committing workplace discrimination.

Indirect discrimination occurs when policies are put in place, which are in one way or another unfair to certain employees. For instance, if management decided to ban pork in the breakroom, which limits the meal options of a staff member practicing the Hindu religion.

Workplace harassment

Compared with direct and indirect discrimination, workplace harassment is easier to spot. Here we define harassment as any verbal or physical hostility directed toward an employee. This hostility can be racially or sexually charged. It can also be a blatant expression of prejudice against a specific religion, age group, disability, or nation of origin.

If an employee of color walks into the bathroom to be welcomed by racial epithets on the mirror, that’s workplace harassment. The same goes for seemingly innocent pranks and jokes that clearly undermine a staff member’s sense of self.

How to avoid workplace discrimination

To ensure a non-toxic workplace culture where there’s no room for any sort of discrimination or harassment, the bulk of the responsibility lies on the people in power. That means top managers in charge of policymaking.

All businesses and organizations should have a written equal opportunities policy. This should guide all human resource practices, from recruitment to employee review and promotion.

When conducting recruitment, be careful with the words you use when posting job vacancies. There should be nothing in there that hints at any preference towards a specific demographic.

It also helps to educate your staff about workplace discrimination and harassment. Lay down the ground rules and set expectations. Encourage everyone to commit to a healthy workplace culture where everyone’s respectful of each other.

If a complaint comes up, never brush it under the rug. Deal with it fast and with transparency. The worst thing you could do is not act fast enough and realize later that what could have been solved internally has gotten out of hand.

With the recent media attention on the Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and SOGIE movements, minorities in the workplace have become more aware of their rights. And that should not be a cause of fear for any business. Instead, it should challenge top managers and HR specialists to apply policies that protect these minorities. Lastly, businesses should realize there is no getting around the fact that workplace diversity is something to be celebrated instead of curbed.

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