An unfortunate trend in recent years has been the rise of reports of discrimination across the nation. Due to the amount of time Americans spend working, much of this discrimination is experienced on the job. Sometimes discrimination can be so ingrained in the culture of a workplace that it is difficult to even recognize it for what it is.
As workplaces across the nation work to become more inclusive and more employees feel empowered to speak up about mistreatment, it is in everyone’s best interest to learn more about discrimination. In this article, the discussion will focus on racial, sexual, and religious discrimination: what they are, how to recognize them in the workplace, and what can be done to preempt them before they become a problem.
By definition, discrimination is any difference in treatment or consideration based on a class or category. However, there is a distinct difference between legal and illegal discrimination. An employer can legally be discriminatory in their treatment of the financial department as opposed to the retail team. This difference in treatment may be shown in the relative pay rates of the employees in those categories or the benefits offered.
Illegal discrimination, on the other hand, is discriminatory behavior against a class or category of people that is protected by law. There are several federal laws that prevent discrimination. Most prominently, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In total, there are eight types of discrimination that are forbidden by federal law:
Notably, the victim of discrimination does not always have to be the chosen victim of the perpetrator. Anyone who feels that discriminatory or harassing behavior is causing them to be unable to function in the company normally may be able to file a complaint about the behavior.
Illegal discrimination complaints are heard, investigated, and resolved by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This commission is a part of the U.S. Department of Labor and exists to address issues of discrimination in the workplace. If an EEOC investigator finds evidence of discrimination, then the EEOC can offer mediation services or even take direct legal action against the employer.
Sexual discrimination is a differing treatment based on the sex of an employee. This term is intentionally broad and has been expanded in its interpretation to include discrimination against pregnant people, people of different gender identities, and people of diverse sexual orientations.
One of the most common types of sex-based discrimination is sexual harassment. Harassment is a type of discriminatory behavior that can involve pranks, critical comments, offensive actions, assault, or other unwanted actions that cause worry, fear, or annoyance. The standard for determining whether someone has engaged in harassing behavior is often the hostile work environment standard.
The hostile work environment standard attempts to determine whether the allegedly harassing behavior has given rise to a setting in which the victim can no longer work or effectively accomplish their duties. Typically to create a hostile work environment the harassing behavior must either be pervasive or severe.
Pervasive behavior is any action that is repeated to cause consistent small harms that damage the employee’s ability to feel safe to perform their duties in the workplace. Examples of pervasive sexual harassment include consistent offensive jokes based on the victim’s sex, engaging in pranks such as hiding the tools or equipment of employees of a certain sex, or actions such as repeatedly invading the space of an employee or touching them in inappropriate manners.
In contrast to pervasive harassment’s standard of numerous consistent offenses, severe harassing behavior may only need to happen once. Severe harassment is any single, impactful or traumatic event that deeply impacts the employee’s sense of safety. Examples of severe harassment may include physical assault, destruction of the employee’s personal possessions, or other actions that would be objectively harmful.
While sex-based discrimination is highly pervasive in workplaces, it can be curbed. Sexual discrimination can be deterred by implementing zero-tolerance policies, ensuring that the internal HR department has the power and incentives to root out sex-based discrimination, and by individual employees speaking out about discriminatory or harassing actions.
Racial discrimination is any unequal treatment that is based on the race of an employee. Notably, the person discriminating against an individual is still guilty of discriminatory actions even if they incorrectly assume the victim’s race. For example, if an employer singles an employee out and discriminates against an employee because they are black, it does not matter if the employee is actually Asian or Hispanic.
Racial discrimination often crosses over with two other categories of discrimination: color discrimination, more commonly referred to as colorism, and national origin discrimination. Color-based discrimination does not discern between specific races but instead discriminates based on skin tone. National origin discrimination specifically targets the nation that the harasser believes the employee to be from.
Sometimes certain policies can be racially discriminatory in less obvious ways than harassment or outright abuse. For example, certain uniform policies regarding beards or hair can disproportionately affect people of certain races or from certain national origins. If a policy seems innocuous, but strongly affects a certain race or only benefits people of certain national origins, that policy can still be found to be discriminatory.
When it comes to preventing racial discrimination it usually requires a twofold approach: a policy angle and a personnel angle. From a policy angle, companies should be open to feedback from employees about ways that some policies are unfair or prejudicial and change them. This is particularly true if the people complaining about those policies are part of a group that is underrepresented among the higher branches of the company. From a personal point, employees can speak out against people using discriminatory language or acting discriminatorily toward members of certain races.
Religious discrimination is a historical struggle in America. Many of the first Europeans who came to America cited religious persecution as why they fled. In the modern-day, shifting sociopolitical factors have caused many religious groups to feel unheard, underrepresented, and discriminated against.
Religious discrimination can be obvious or very complex. Obvious examples include not allowing employees to wear religious garbs such as yarmulkes, turbans, or hijabs or not hiring employees who do not adhere to the employer’s faith.
Less obvious examples are usually based on employment policies that benefit certain religions while discounting all others. For example, an employer may incentivize or compel employees to adhere to their religion if the employer asks what religious institution an individual attends, leads employees in regular prayer, or includes whether a person is a practicing member of the employer’s faith in decisions regarding hiring, promotions, or wage increases.
Sometimes even something like asking to learn more about an employee’s faith can become harassment. For example, asking a few questions about an employee’s holy days, rituals, or other beliefs may be considered innocuous. However, if those questions begin to move towards interrogating the employee’s beliefs or implying that their religion is morally incorrect or fake, then those questions may be considered harassing.
In general, the best way to prevent religious discrimination is to act tolerantly. This means allowing religious grab to be worn, respecting an employee’s holy days of obligation, and not asking questions if it is apparent or expressed that the employee is no longer comfortable with that line of questioning.
If you have experienced discrimination in the workplace, you may be able to file a lawsuit in order to seek justice for the losses that you have suffered. By demonstrating the ways in which you have suffered harassment and endured a hostile work environment, you may be able to receive compensation for your injuries. The best way to prevail in your lawsuit is with an Employment Law attorney.
An experienced Employment Law attorney can zealously advocate on your behalf in order to get you the best possible outcome for your case. Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Employment Law attorney will be able to gather evidence of your mistreatments such as email records and witness testimony and present that information in the most compelling way for your case.
Don’t wait, contact AAL today and begin your journey to justice.