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Discrimination in the Workplace and How to Handle It

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Discrimination in the workplace has become a common topic over the past few years. HR professionals are probably already aware of all the types of discrimination that can occur in the workplace, including age, disability, harassment, national origin, pregnancy, religion, disability, sex, and more. It is important to know how to deal with this if there is ever discrimination happening in your company. Being knowledgeable about the laws that protect your employees and knowing what is going on in your company are ideal places to start when dealing with discrimination. Here are some tips HR managers should follow when dealing with discrimination in the workplace:

Educate Yourself

First of all, you have to stay informed about everything that is going on within your company. Additionally, you should stay informed about workplace discrimination in general. Check out how other industries deal with it, read the newspaper to find out about what is happening in your area, and most of all, stay up to date on employment laws. There are many laws that protect employees against discrimination and if you are not aware of them, you can get into a lot of trouble. Hopefully, you are already aware of these laws, but just in case, I’d like to share a few with you.

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
  • the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination;
  • the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older;
  • Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (ADA), which prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments;
  • Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibit discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government;
  • Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), which prohibits employment discrimination based on genetic information about an applicant, employee, or former employee; and
  • the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which, among other things, provides monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.

To learn more about workplace discrimination laws by type, click here. Also, keep in mind that every state has its own laws, so make sure you are aware of those as well.

Have Clear Company Policies

If you haven’t already, you should consider creating and implementing an anti-discrimination policy in your company. Each company has their own culture, but at the end of the day, discrimination is basically the same across the board. Your managers and employees should be aware of these policies and should know and understand the disciplinary actions that are followed when these policies are violated. The line between employment protections from discrimination and protections from harassment is not clearly defined, but anti-discrimination policies typically emphasize the responsibility of the employer and anti-harassment policies emphasize the responsibility of employees. Often, anti-harassment and nondiscrimination statements are wrapped into the same policy language.

Interview the People Involved & Take Notes

When an employee comes to you and tells you they are feeling harassed or discriminated by one of their coworkers or superiors, then you need to take action. Find out exactly what the employee's concerns are and get details. Be sure to take notes during these interviews since you are going to want to have a record of what the employees say. Make sure that you not only interview the people involved, but also any witnesses who may have seen or heard any problematic conduct. Before the interviews are over, go back through your notes and make sure you got everything right. If available, check security cameras or any other surveillance you may have around the office.

Invest in a Good Lawyer

Trust me, at the end of the day, a lawyer can save you lots of money. Do your research and find a lawyer that specializes in workplace discrimination and have his or her number on hand. You never know when an employee will file a claim. If more than one employee complaints of harassment or discrimination, then you should consider investigating the case. Many law firms and private consulting firms will do the investigation for you for a fee.

If you are an employee and believe you are being discriminated at your workplace you can read about the EEO Complaint Process here.


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