Preventing Discrimination in the Workplace

Employers are responsible for protecting the health and safety of their employees. Sometimes, this means protecting employees from harmful discrimination from other employees. It can be a difficult situation to address in the workplace, but there may be times that it is necessary to ensure the safety of all employees.

What is Discrimination?

Discrimination is the act of treating a person or group less favorably than another person or group due to circumstances or personal characteristics. Often, people suffer workplace discrimination for various reasons, including:

  • race;

  • age;

  • religious beliefs;

  • gender;

  • sexual orientation;

  • marital status;

  • pregnancy;

  • political view or support for causes;

  • union membership or activity;

  • impairment or disability; or

  • obligations as a parent or caregiver.

It’s Against the Law

Discrimination isn’t just the act of making employees feel uncomfortable in the workplace; it’s also against the law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act all protect employees from discrimination. If someone becomes a victim of harassment because of a personal characteristic protected by equal opportunity law, it is a form of discrimination.

Anti-discrimination laws are meant to protect all employees from acts of indirect and direct discrimination as well as sexual harassment, bullying, and victimization.

Types of Harassment

All employees have the right to feel safe in the workplace. Discrimination can lead to harassment and other harmful effects. Employees who are victims of discrimination can suffer mental health, physical health, and at times, bodily injury as a result.

Employees may begin to fear the workplace as a result of constant bullying or harassment. They may lack motivation and commitment to the workplace if their peers or supervisors harass them.

Discrimination can be direct and indirect. Both company leaders and employees can be victimizers of discrimination. And subsequently, both can be victims of discrimination as well.

Direct discrimination is when a person treats, or proposes to treat, someone unfavorably because of a personal characteristic protected by law. Employers who refuse to hire someone because of unfair assumptions and stereotypes are committing an act of direct discrimination. One example could be not hiring someone because of their age and the assumption that just because they are older, they are unable to retain knowledge.

An example of indirect discrimination is creating a workplace policy that seems to treat all workers the same, but disadvantages employees because of a protected personal characteristic. Like requiring employees to work extended shifts or weekends; it’s a company policy that all employees are expected to follow, but those who are parents and caregivers are disadvantaged due to the unreasonable expectations of the requirement and their duties to their family.

Other types of discrimination include:

  • Sexual harassment- unwelcomed conduct of a sexual nature that involves behavior that makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

  • Authorizing and assisting- when employers knowingly allow employees and supervisors to discriminate against or sexually harass someone, and in some case even inflict discrimination on another employee.

  • Victimization- threatening and subjecting a person to detrimental treatment because of their protected personal characteristic, or as retaliation towards someone who has asserted their rights and filed a discrimination complaint or refused to do something because it would be a type of discrimination.

Preventing Discrimination Starts at the Top

Employers must lead by example when it comes to the prevention of discriminatory acts against and among employees. It is for everyone’s safety that preventing discrimination be a top priority. Not only can discrimination be detrimental to the health and safety of employees, but it can also bring legal consequence onto the business or business owners are knowingly allowing discrimination in the workplace.

There are a few simple measures employers can take to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

  • Discuss and display established rules for proper conduct. Include policy descriptions in the company handbook and be sure to give employees open access to the information.

  • Broaden employer and employee education on what classifies as discrimination. Many people wrongfully assume that race is the only issue when it comes to discrimination. That’s not true. Be sure workplace discrimination policies cover a range of potential discriminatory acts.

  • Create a discrimination complaint protocol. As part of the workplace discrimination policy, specific instructions on how to report discrimination and what expectations are to follow a report should also be available to employers and employees. Outline precisely how complaints will be followed up on and stick to the policy if an employee files a claim. Keep a record of the incident and save any paperwork and witness statements.

  • Continuously educate and train all staff on discrimination, what it is, how to prevent it, and what to do if they witness discrimination against another employee. Training employees on how to conduct themselves and what to do if they see someone breaking company policies is key to preventing discrimination.

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