The definition of discrimination in the workplace is as follows:
NOUN: the discrimination in favor of or against an employee based on a group, category, or class to which the individual belongs, rather than on individual merit.
Have more questions on discrimination in the workplace? Read this post to see what it is and what it is not and what to do if you are a victim of discrimination in the workplace.
What is Discrimination in the Workplace?
According to federal and state laws, it is illegal for an employer to treat a person unequally based on his or her race, gender, ethnicity, age, religion, or disability. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandates that no person employed by, or seeking employment with, a company that has 15 or more employees can be discriminated against based on any of these factors. While federal law prohibits discrimination in the workplace, most states have enacted their own laws regarding workplace discrimination.
Discrimination in the workplace covers any work related issues, and it is important for employers to take care that the company handbook, policies, and practices are uniform, regardless of employee race, gender, ethnicity, age, religion, or disability. Even a policy that applies to all employees, regardless of these factors may be illegal if it creates a negative impact on the employees. For example, if an employer has a hair style policy that applies to all employees, it may be unlawful if the policy is not job related, and impacts a someone's religious requirements to wear certain head coverings.
What Is "Legitimate Discrimination?"
There is a bona fide occupational qualification that makes some forms of discrimination legitimate. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees for a variety of issues, it also recognizes the need of some employers to hire employees with certain qualities. For instance, hiring employees based on attributes such as sex, national origin, or religion when such attribute is a necessary qualification of the job, is considered “permissible discrimination.”
In addition, educational or other institutions that are owned, controlled, or managed by a particular religion, are allowed to hire for key positions based on the applicant’s religious affiliation. Even in this context, the position being filled must have a legitimate requirement of religious affiliation. For instance, a private Catholic school may legally insist on employing a member of the Catholic church for the position of President, dean, or chaplain, but considering only Catholic applicants for positions such as janitor, school cook, or secretary would likely be seen as discrimination.
Dealing with Discrimination in the Workplace
If an employee is dealing with discrimination in the workplace, he should carefully document all instance of the discrimination or harassment. This may be done by writing down the date, time, and details of each discriminatory act, as well as by keeping copies of voicemails, emails, text messages, as well as any physical evidence, which prove the discrimination. Such documentation, as well as a list of other people who may have witnessed the acts, may be important to an investigation.
The employee should report workplace discrimination, in writing, to his employer right away, keeping a copy of the notice. This ensures that, even if the problem has to be reported to a higher authority, the employer cannot claim ignorance of the situation.
While the state in which the victim is employed may have an agency assigned to investigate discrimination in the workplace, the victim can always contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The EEOC oversees compliance with anti-discrimination laws. Many state employment agencies are able to provide information to both employers and employees, and guide them in reporting workplace discrimination.
Legal Consequences of Discrimination in the Workplace
Workplace discrimination affects everyone involved, both employer and employee. Legal consequences of discrimination in the workplace often takes the form of penalties and fines imposed by governmental agencies tasked with monitoring and preventing such discrimination. In addition to fines that may be quite large, depending on the circumstances, an employer may be subject to civil lawsuits filed by wronged employees.
Such lawsuits necessitate obtaining counsel, which is not inexpensive, and if the employer loses the lawsuit, it will likely be ordered to pay the victim employee’s legal fees as well. Damages in a civil lawsuit for workplace discrimination are generally financial in nature, and may include compensatory damages, back pay to the employee, and punitive damages. Such an employer may also be ordered to reinstate a wrongfully terminated employee.
An employer may face more than legal consequences of discrimination in the workplace, as accusations of discrimination that make it into the public spotlight often lower public opinion of the employer. This often results in decreased sales or patronage.
I hope this has given you some insight on what discrimination is, how it is defined under the law and some of the means it can manifest itself. The above are excerpts from legaldictionary.net and there are also available cases that you can review on their site for specific examples.
This is not a legal opinion or legal advice. (lawyers made me say that...wink).
M.E.L. is an attorney and small business entrepreneur whose mission is to help professionals conquer the workaday world with style and poise.
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