If you were exposed to discrimination at work, would you know it? Many employees think that employment discrimination comes in certain glaringly obvious forms such as repeated racial slurs and offenses or continual exclusions of certain groups in hiring or promotions, but that is not always the case. Some employees may also not be aware that employers are violating employment discrimination law in terms of company policies or workplace agreements.
Further, more and more of today’s workplaces exhibit a rather benign form of discrimination called unconscious discrimination. The clandestine characteristics of this particular form of discrimination means it’s not always easy to identify. However, knowing when your rights have been violated is essential to bringing about changes to a potentially detrimental employment situation.
While employees may have a general idea about employment discrimination based on its formative civil rights era years, workers need to know that times have changed. Much of what was considered to be unlawful discrimination has shifted into new and subtler arenas. That said, here are five ways to spot employment discrimination in today’s workplace.
Differences in pay or other employment conditions.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to observe certain requirements in the workplace. Namely, the employer is required to maintain a workplace environment free from discrimination in all areas and conditions of employment. This includes hiring, firing, promotions, compensation and benefits.
Violations of Title VII may not at first be apparent. However, when an employee suspects there are differences in the way he or she is treated, the first step is to make sure that the law covers the particular situation. Title VII only applies to certain types of discrimination based on protected categories listed in the act. These are race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability and religion.
Also, Title VII offers protection to all employees, but it may not cover the company you work for. The act only covers employers with 15 or more employees. State laws, however, may cover employers with fewer numbers of employees. If you suspect discrimination, it’s important to consider both state and federal law before filing a claim.
Hiring practices based on physical appearance or inappropriate interview questions
The law also provides for a successful hiring and interview process which does not expose prospective employees to unlawful discrimination. We already know that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on membership in any of the protected categories in all areas of employment. That includes the hiring process.
Spotting discrimination in the hiring practices can be just as tricky as spotting discrimination in an ongoing work situation. In fact, it is during hiring that unconscious biases could begin to surface. Many employers have wisely opted to train hiring managers on non-discriminatory hiring practices – a move that could be great protection against liability.
When the law is being violated however, there are several ways to spot it. Chiefly, employees should keep in mind that certain aspects of their appearance should not be used against them in the hiring process. This most often applies in terms of religious discrimination – where employers deny jobs or automatically dismiss potential workers based on religious dress or attire.
Hiring bias could also take the form of racial or national origin bias, such as when employers pass up well-qualified job candidates based on their racial or ethnic-sounding names or even hairstyle. Such race based hiring discrimination is illegal.
Changes in employer behavior between the application phase and an in-person interview may indicate biases. For instance, one sex discrimination case involved a transgender job candidate who was approved for a job based on phone interviews only to have the opportunity rescinded after an in-person interview revealed her gender identity.
Employees should also keep an eye out for unlawful interview questions. According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines, certain types of interview question are prohibited under Title VII non-discrimination provisions. These includes questions about a person’s sexual identity or medical condition.
Unfair behavior based on family life
Discrimination can often arise based on issues surrounding family life such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, leave, and compensation. A number of federal employment discrimination laws address each of these issues, ensuring that even workers with families are treated equally.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, for instance protects workers from discrimination based on pregnancy by supporting women who require reasonable accommodation while at work. Employers are required to provide accommodation for a pregnancy when requested as long as the request does not involve an undue hardship to the business. Accommodations could include scheduling changes, rest breaks, or allowing a worker to refrain from heaving lifting.
In addition, the FMLA also protects employees with families from discrimination in terms of the amount of leave necessary to address family medical issues. An employer is not allowed to base leave decisions on a person’s race, color, national origin, age, religion disability or sex.
Unfair behavior based on social status or sexual orientation
Sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination have made headlines a number of times recently, and it’s because many changes are being proposed and made in this area concerning employment discrimination. That means it’s more important than ever for employees to know their rights in these particular areas.
While federal legislation prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination at work is still waiting in the wings, many states have moved forward with protecting their employees from such discrimination. For instance in California, both sexual orientation and gender identity are considered protected categories in employment discrimination laws.
Employees should watch out for unfair behavior or differential treatment based on sexual orientation or transgender (gender identity) status. Even if state law does not protect a worker in these areas, chances are that a particular case could be filed under Title VII. The EEOC has, in the past, recognized the validity of sexual orientation discrimination claims filed under the sex based discrimination categories of Title VII.
Ways to Spot Discrimination in Today’s Workplace
Spotting discrimination in today’s workplace can be difficult. Though individual attitudes have shifted concerning discrimination in areas such as race, color, national origin, sex and other protected categories, in many cases, employer behavior has not. This means that employees must be vigilant in knowing their rights and be prepared to seek competent legal advice when those rights are violated.