What Employees Need To Know About Discrimination

Workplace discrimination takes many forms. These guidelines can help employees recognize, prevent, or deal with it to prevent problems from developing.

Discrimination in the workplace can occur in many ways, sometimes without either party's awareness. For example, an offhand comment may reflect a discriminatory attitude or practice, but it may be that neither speaker nor listener grasped the potential for problems.

If you are unsure about what constitutes discrimination, here are a few guidelines that can help. Also, look up additional information on the Internet or check with your local EEO office.

1. Discrimination means to respond to someone on the basis of your view of one or more of the person's characteristics, which may be a physical trait or a values system. Typical traits associated with discrimination include gender, race, nationality, and political or spiritual beliefs.

2. Gender discrimination means treating someone differently, either better or worse than other employees at the same rank. For example, a supervisor may promote an attractive woman to a higher paying position because he wants to work more closely with her. Or the supervisor may demote a young man because he doesn't want to compete for the attention of women who work in the office. Superficial reasons for conducting business and impacting an employee's career path are a form of discrimination. Since women have entered the work force in large numbers only in the past few decades, many observers perceive a wage gap in the salary levels of men and women with the same job. A recent gender issue is the movement to protect homosexuals from discrimination.

3. Racial discrimination can result when someone objects to or favors an employee of another race, who may or may not be an American citizen. Other races might include Hispanic, Native American, or African American among those born in the U.S., or those of international racial origin, such as Asian, African, or Polynesian.

4. Although the U.S. Constitution offers freedom of religion, it also mandates separation of church and state so that the government does not appear to promote the interests of one faith over another. A number of laws have been enacted to protect freedom of worship, or lack of, across many kinds of belief systems, including atheism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, and others. Though there are limits as to sharing one's personal beliefs in a public setting, and employees in many government offices cannot make a show of personal beliefs, the law generally protects Americans' right to believe and worship (or not) as they wish.

5. All companies should have an anti-discrimination policy. Sexual harassment, or gender discrimination, often provides guidelines for additional types of discrimination, such as religious. You can download a free template of a sexual harassment policy on the Web after doing an online search for "sexual harassment policy example."

Protect your company and your employees by providing guidelines about discrimination after finding out what the law says. Create a policy for your organization and offer a seminar or workshop to bring employees up to speed. Hopefully you will never need to enforce it by disciplining someone, but you'll be ready if you do.

© High Speed Ventures 2011