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Workplace Discrimination: What to Avoid

Discrimination charges in the workplace are serious and can lead to embarrassment, scandal and ruin for a company or its employers. But what exactly is discrimination? Discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employee suffers is treated differently or unfavorably as a direct result of their race, religion, disability status, pregnancy or marital status, gender, or a number of other characteristics. Federal laws are in place to prohibit discrimination when it comes to recruiting, hiring, job evaluations, promotion policies, training, pay, and discipline.

The penalties for breaking these laws are stiff - if an employer is found guilty of discrimination, the employee is entitles to a number of compensatory pay, including back pay, restoration of their old job if they were fired, court order to stop the discrimination, and pain and suffering. In addition, if an employer is found guilty of workplace discrimination, it can face up to $300,000 in fines.
Oftentimes, employees will not know that their behavior is offensive, nor is their intent malicious. Many times, it is the result of joking between two parties getting out of hand. For this reason, it's important to make certain all employees, particularly those involved with hiring and promoting, know what is considered discrimination and what is not. Some forms of discrimination and situations to avoid include:

  • Age. There is an Age Discrimination Employment Act all employers should be aware of that protects workers aged 40 and over from being denied a job or promotion, or being fired or reassigned, based solely on age. Be careful when requesting date of birth on employment applications; while it is not illegal in itself, it could deter older workers from applying. Age discrimination can take place in many forms; for example, downsizing an older worker in favor of keeping a younger one who is paid less. In addition, setting age limits for training programs or asking applicants when they intend on retiring in job interviews is considered age discrimination.

  •  Gender. Gender discrimination can also be interchanged with sexual harassment; for example, not hiring a woman who is recently married because the employer thinks there is a chance she will have children soon, or offering a promotion to a less-qualified man based on the assumption that clients would rather deal with men than women in business. These are forms of gender discrimination and should be avoided in the workplace. In addition, avoid asking questions about marital status and family planning in interview questions.

  •  Religion. Not hiring or promoting an applicant or employee based on religion is also a form of workplace discrimination and should be avoided completely. For example, refusing to promote a Muslim after 9-11 for fear his religion could negative connotations to the company or firing an employee for refusal to work on Sundays due to religious beliefs are considered religious discrimination and should be avoided.

  •  Race. Discrimination based on race or nationality is not tolerated in the workplace. It's important to keep in mind that racial discrimination is not limited to African Americans; for example, if an employer in a predominantly African American firm hires an African American over a white employee solely because the African American would "fit in" better, this is racial discrimination.

These are just a few forms of discrimination that can take place in the business world. Workplace discrimination can result in loss of reputation, financial hardships, and heavy fines to employers. In order to avoid this, it's important to know what constitutes discrimination and take steps to make sure it is not practiced or condoned.

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