Often, employees feel powerless when faced with what they believe to be discrimination in the workplace. Out of fear of losing their jobs in the current economic climate, many people feel that they have no choice but to tolerate certain behaviors, including harassment, jokes, and coworker favoritism, among other sometimes difficult to prove forms of discrimination. Fortunately, however, the law is squarely on the side of the employee when it comes to workplace discrimination.
Protecting the Employee
Federal law prohibits discrimination of any kind based on race, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy, religion, gender, disability, age, or skin color. Some state laws expand on federal laws to include the LGBTQ community, and other groups. Although the laws are clearly written and the information is accessible to everyone (federal law even requires posting the information in the workplace), that doesn’t mean that everyone abides by them. Discrimination can be subtle, and sometimes unintended, but, that doesn’t make it any less damaging to the victims. Discrimination also creates a hostile work environment for everyone. But, what does discrimination look like? Exactly what constitutes discrimination in the workplace?
Types of Workplace Discrimination
Discrimination in the workplace doesn’t have to be blatant, and often it’s not. That’s one of the characteristics that makes it so difficult to prove and identify to the outside observer. However, to those on the receiving end, discrimination is painfully obvious. Here are a few types of workplace discrimination:
- If an employer denies an employee workplace accommodations that he or she needs because of a disability or religious beliefs, it is a form of workplace discrimination.
- An employer, or his employees, are guilty of discrimination if they retaliate against an employee who complained about on-the-job discrimination, or aided in a lawsuit or investigation.
- If an employee faces wrongful termination, or is denied employment or a promotion, because he or she falls under one of the federal or state protected categories (gender, race, etc) then he or she may have a case against the employer.
- Harassment, obvious or not, against any employee, regardless of whether it’s by a coworker or manager, is illegal if the harassment is aimed at the victim because he falls under a protected category.
- Equal pay for equal work has been in effect since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was made law. For example, if an employer pays one person less than other because the lower paid employee is a female, then the employer is guilty of discrimination.
- The employee doesn’t have to fit into a protected category to be covered by discrimination laws. All laws also cover employees who may be discriminated against because he or she is married to someone who fits into a protected category as well.
What You Can Do
If you believe that you are a victim of workplace discrimination, you have 180 days to file a complaint with the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If local laws have also been broken, the deadline for filing a claim extends to 300 days. However, it’s strongly advised that you file a claim as quickly as possible while memories remain clear and the evidence is still available. For more information on deadlines and other requirements, contact either an attorney that specializes in workplace discrimination law, or the EEOC.
Every work environment has its share of stresses and anxieties that employees and employers alike are required to work through together. However, even amid the pressures involved with working around others, meeting deadlines, and dealing with difficult circumstances, in no way does that ever justify discriminatory acts against coworkers or subordinates. If you feel as if you have been a victim of workplace discrimination, either while applying for a job, during the course of employment, or if you believe you were unjustly terminated, understand that you do have rights. One of those rights is to file a claim, either through the EEOC, or with an attorney who will advise you of your legal standing, and will help you fight back against workplace discrimination.