Guest Blogger: Paul Lander, Farms.com
Despite decades of progress towards worker rights and protections, discrimination continues to be an issue in many workplaces across the country. To deal with discrimination in the workplace, we first need to understand what it means, who it affects, and what can be done about it.
What is Workplace Discrimination?
Typically, in the United States, discrimination in the workplace refers to actions and decisions that negatively affect individuals or groups of people for reasons such as race, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, disability (physical or mental, including HIV status), age (for workers over 40), military service or affiliation, bankruptcy or bad debts, genetic information, and citizenship status (for citizens, permanent residents, temporary residents, refugees, and asylees).
Employers in the United States are legally prohibited from engaging in certain types of workplace discrimination under federal laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlaws workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which sought to equalize pay between men and women with substantially equal jobs in the same workplace; the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 which prohibits age discrimination in the workplace; and Title I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 which prohibits discrimination in employment due to physical or mental illness. The United States Constitution also prohibits federal and state governments from discriminating against public employees in a similar manner.
Along with federal laws banning employment discrimination, state laws can expand the classification of discrimination in the workplace to include additional language to prohibit other types of workplace discrimination, such as discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which are currently not protected classes under U.S. federal law.
Who Does Workplace Discrimination Affect?
People and businesses both suffer from discrimination in the workplace. While employees who face discrimination at work are almost certain to suffer from malaise, they can also quickly turn from an otherwise good employee into an employee who could care less about the business that is treating them unfairly. Victims of workplace discrimination may also take legal action against their employer, which can lead to reparations for those discriminated against as well as costly legal fees and lost productivity for the company.
One argument that sometimes arises in workplace discrimination cases is the potential for false reporting. While it’s true that discrimination is a reality in some American workplaces, some cases may have little merit. Did you get passed over for a promotion because you’re native American, or has your boss noticed that you’re late for work almost every day? Did you get fired because you’re physically disabled or was it because you were caught stealing from your employer?
Sadly, this does happen. Some disgruntled employees will try to scapegoat the consequences of their own poor performances and indiscretions on discrimination. Showing up late every day, consistently not meeting deadlines and other legitimate reasons for employers to terminate employment, or not provide internal promotion or other benefits is justified.
What Can Be Done About Employment Discrimination?
Know your rights. Under the law, if you have been legitimately discriminated against by your employer for any reason that is defined under federal and state anti-discrimination laws, you have a right to pursue legal action against that employer. As an employer, know what constitutes workplace discrimination under the law and provide this information to your management team to prevent violations from occurring.
Although federal and state laws can protect most individuals from certain types of workplace discrimination by their employers, they do very little to prevent discrimination and harassment by fellow employees. As an employer, it’s up to you to foster a work environment that is free of discrimination and intolerant of divisiveness and prejudice.