How to Prevent Discrimination in the Workplace
Discriminatory practices are unfortunately all too common in the modern workplace. There are numerous types of discrimination, and many different demographics may feel the unfortunate effects of it at some point along their professional journey. Discrimination leads to poor company culture, and reflects bad leadership.
This is why it is so crucial that we focus on ways to combat this practice and put an end to discrimination in the workplace entirely. Read on to learn how you can best eliminate discrimination practices as well as what resources can help you along the way.
What Qualifies as Workplace Discrimination?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), workplace discrimination is described as “treating that person differently, or less favorably, for some reason.”
Compliance relies on effective strategies for mitigating discriminatory practices, as there is never a just cause for discrimination in the workplace of any kind. For this reason, it is crucial that your place of work maintain strict guidelines on the importance of abolishing any and all workplace discrimination. It is also vital that employees feel safe should they believe they are being discriminated against. This is a very sensitive issue, and employees should feel comfortable bringing this to the attention of HR. The laws set out by the EEOC help to minimize workplace discrimination when involving:
Unfair treatment: This involves the mistreatment of a person based on race, gender identity, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or other genetic information.
Harassment: Harassment can take many forms; typically by managers or other coworkers. Again, this can be based upon a number of factors such as race, religion, gender identity, religion, color, sexual orientation, disability, age or other genetic information.
Denial of a reasonable workplace change: This involves an employee seeking a workplace change, which typically is based upon a held religious belief or disability.
Improper questions: You are protected from sharing information relating to genetic information and other medical concerns.
Retaliation: This protects an employee from any sort of “firing back” or retaliation against a complaint made due to harassment or discrimination of any sort.
4 Steps Employers Can Take to End Workplace Discrimination
According to survey data from Clutch, a B2B ratings & reviews firm, “employees see racism and discrimination as an issue at workplaces in the U.S.—but not at their workplaces.”
The data clearly suggests that Black workers are more likely to find racism and discrimination to be an issue within their own organization. So how can employers combat the racism faced by so many employees each day? These issues, while at times unnoticed, are very much present in the modern workplace. It ultimately takes a clear plan to put an end to such practices.
Here are several key ways in which you can help to combat this racism within your own workplace:
- Understand overt and covert discrimination: Overt discrimination is quite obvious and easy to point out. It may be as simple as an offensive phrase or word. It is often immediately recognized as bigotry and may even target an entire group of people. Covert on the other hand is layered in subtlety. This however, does not make it any less offensive. The American Psychology Association (APA) lists a number of these types of insults for further reference.
- Eliminate hiring biases: According to research reported by Harvard Business Review, unconscious racism plays a large role in both how and whom we hire. This is true for sexism and ageism as well. The first way to combat this is to recognize it is happening. Think about the way you or hiring managers speak to individuals or how hiring decisions are made. Discern whether the bias is there and exactly what form it is taking. Once you have looked yourself and your organization in the eye and discovered the source of the discrimination, rework your hiring process to directly deter this sort of behavior. Take time to update language in job descriptions, and standardize candidate interviews to maintain a streamlined process devoid of bias.
- Actively review internal policies: Does your employee handbook host outdated and poorly crafted policies that do not account for discrimination practices in the modern era? Stay up-to-date—and request consultation if necessary—to ensure that your own practices align with the changes that you’re committed to making. Note: If you don’t have an anti-harassment policy, we strongly recommend that you develop one. You may use the following blog as a guide.
- Continue to support and protect employees: One of the most important things you can do for your employees is to provide them with a culture where they can feel valuable and safe. Keep in mind that these efforts won’t fix all of your issues overnight. You can, however, provide support for your team in a number of different ways. This is an ongoing process, and should be continued each and every day.
Resources Available to Support Employees
Do your employees have access to necessary resources during times of stress and hardship? A few important resources to consider are:
Mental health/emotional support resources – Watch Episode 16 of HR Party of One for a full breakdown of these resources. Many employees will desire access to mental health support, such as counseling options, or even therapy sessions. Mindfulness apps can be a helpful tool as well as any relaxation techniques that may benefit stress and anxiety amongst employees. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are also great resources for helping employees through work-related stress or problems.
Implementing safe spaces for open discussions about biases: 1:1 meetings are a great way to open up the opportunity for your employees to discuss any feelings that may have regarding any sort of discrimination that may be happening. Having the option to speak with HR as needed is another safe way to ensure that employees have a safe space to open up about said concerns.
More relaxed time off policies: It is important that employees find ways to utilize vacation days. Having a relaxed policy can encourage the use of these days overall. Vacation utilization can also support employee productivity and even creativity. By taking a break from the office, employees temporarily separate from workplace pressures and decrease stress levels.
No matter which policies you choose to implement, the data is clear in showing us that employees value these efforts. Not only that, but the same survey from Clutch indicated that workplace diversity improves employee engagement and satisfaction.
Additional Training and Education
Should you find yourself in a situation where you are either uncomfortable, unsure of how to proceed, or even unsure of how to begin, consider taking an implicit bias training course.
Request speakers to come and present on difficult issues with your entire team. Offer regular trainings and seminars to help make all employees fully aware of how discrimination lurks in unexpected ways, and how to handle and discourage such practices. Encourage your team to read books or articles with themes focused on diversity, inclusivity, and fighting discrimination. Consider taking an IACET accredited diversity training course from HIPAA Exams to expand your education even further.
Discuss these matters and texts in breakout sessions or all-team meetings. Consider these educational resources part of your toolkit for professional improvement. They’ll help you to be a stronger manager—and help your employees feel more safe and valued at work.
How to Discuss Issues with your Team
In May of 2020, widespread protests broke out across the country in reaction to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, emotional tensions for workers and employees reached unprecedented heights.
As a response, organizations across the country elected to communicate directly with their employees regarding the protests, as well as look inwardly at their own processes and biases. HR administrators need to determine, based upon the size and dynamics of the team, what the best course of action will be when communicating effectively with employees on discriminatory matters.
Some companies may find that utilizing 1-on-1 meetings provides a great opportunity to ask questions, talk through concerns, and develop solutions between managers and their direct-report employees. For others, addressing these issues may be best accomplished in an open forum or town-hall style discussion involving entire departments or teams.
Additionally, should you wish to show your employees that you empathize with them and are willing to stand behind them on these matters, then consider sending an internal email. Show them that you are on their team and are willing to go to bat for them if necessary. Consider the following best practices:
Be explicit about intentions: How do you plan to address internal issues? How do you plan to support employees? Once you know this, you can make preparations and put plans into motion.
Be open to conversation: Invite team members to participate in open dialogue with both each other and with management. That said, they should also feel entirely safe to bring issues of discrimination to both management and HR.
Provide action items: Offer employees options to learn about discrimination in the workplace by providing them with support resources and training. Employees should always have access to these support resources and fully understand how to make use of them. Also be sure that everyone on the team understands that there is always room to get more involved with improving company culture.
Federal Labor Laws that Apply to Small Businesses
There are different federal labor laws that apply to employers depending on the size of the organization. Keeping up with all of these different regulations can be a difficult task and is often quite confusing.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), these are some of the most prevalent risks pertaining to anti-discrimination in the workplace:
Job advertisements: It is illegal for an employer to post a job advertisement that directly discourages someone from applying based upon race, color, gender identity, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or other genetic information.
Recruitment: Employers are not legally allowed to recruit employees in a discriminatory fashion. If an employer were to specifically reach out to a specific demographic, such as a group of hispanic workers, then they could be in violation of discrimination for solely seeking out hispanic workers.
Application: Employers cannot discriminate against an applicant based on race, color, gender identity, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or other genetic information.
Job referrals: It is against the law for employers to choose not to consider a job referral based on race, color, gender identity, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or other genetic information.
Job assignments: Employers cannot base job assignments or promotions on race, color, gender identity, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or other genetic information.
Pay: It is illegal to base pay on race, color, gender identity, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or other genetic information.
Discipline: It is illegal to take into account race, color, gender identity, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or other genetic information, in times of discipline.
References: It is illegal for an employer to give false employment references because of a person's race, color, gender identity, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or other genetic information.
Religion: Employers must accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices.
Training: It is illegal to base apprenticeship programs and trainings on race, color, gender identity, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or other genetic information.
Harassment: It is illegal to harass an employee based on race, color, gender identity, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or other genetic information.
Dress code: An employer may not require a specific dress code that goes against an ethnic belief or practice.
Stay on track with the laws that apply to your business by reviewing labor laws that impact employers with fewer than 100 employees.
You can also stay informed, educated, and up-to-date with anti-discriminatory practices and other important topics by using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:
BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop-shop for HR industry news
HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance
HR Guides—essential pillars, covering an extensive list of comprehensive HR topics
BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit
HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics
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