Workplace Discrimination

Workplace Discrimination is when employees are treated differently, paid differently, promoted differently at their place of work based on their color, race, national origin, religion, gender, or disability.

Employment Discrimination

There are many forms of discrimination in a place of work.  Harassment can also take place in businesses and organizations.  While it is sometimes overt misconduct (for example racial slurs) sometimes it is very subtle (for example when pay increases are less for no other reason than someone’s protected classification).  When one of these protected characteristics is present and someone is treated differently because of them, then it is discrimination. If an individual who is a woman, a minority, or has a disability is passed over from promotions again and again despite their qualifications for the position, then there are grounds for discrimination. This discrimination is illegal in any aspect of employment: who gets hired, fired, promoted, how people are compensated, what benefits they are offered, what positions they are considered for and on and on.

Executive Order 11246 is the law watched closely by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).  Unfair treatment of employees by an employer is dependent on workplace actions like firing, hiring, promoting or demoting based on a prejudice. Affirmative action is can help insulate an employer from such claims.  Some states have laws on the books regarding the prohibition of discrimination which are even more strict that the federal law.  It's important that employers do an investigation into any claim of workplace harassment, employment discrimination or any other workplace conflict in a way that reduces the chance that the organization is legally liable.  Resolve situations such as these in a way that all parties are clear on what are the right and wrong things to do in the workplace.

Discrimination Overview

Employment discrimination is held by the courts to have occurred when a job applicant or an employee is treated unfairly because of their gender, race, national origin, age, religion, disability, or familial status (i.e., pregnancy). Anyone who has one of the protected characteristics is a member of a protected class.  Even if the individual is not a member of a protected class, if the employer perceives that the employee or applicant is a member of a protected class then that individual can be discriminated against.  A refusal to hire an individual, more harsh discipline, refusal to promote, less pay, unfair termination, or a denial of training are all examples of forms that discrimination can take. 

Examples of Employment Discrimination              

  • “Woman Assistant Wanted” in a help-wanted ad for an Executive Assistant
  • Weeding out certain resumes with surnames that are of a different national origin
  • Failing to offer benefits to some employees based on a protected class status
  • Having equally-qualified workers in the same position job with different salaries due to their gender or minority status
  • Assigning disability leave, maternity leave, or retirement options dependent on age, gender or minority status
  • Denying workers use of company facilities like the gym or shower areas based on their ethnicity
  • Discrimination in age, gender or disability when promoting or laying-off groups of workers

LGBTQ Discrimination           

While many states do have laws requiring equal treatment of members of the LGBTQ community, there are no federal laws passed by congress protecting these employees.  Even with the many gains made in recent years for members of this community (for example the right to marry) LGBTQ community members are not in a protected class.  This leaves LGBTQ community members unprotected in states that don’t have state protections for them. 20 states do prohibit discrimination of the LGBTQ community but the remaining 30 do not.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

How can age equality be achieved? In the United States public policy can be effective in increasing age equality. People in an industrialized nation must continue to encourage people to step beyond stereotypes and divorce the idea of age from the contributions of an individual. Age stereotypes are difficult to break because individuals are all apt to engage in stereotyping sometimes. It’s important to research the biases and measure inequality so that we one understand how to effect change.

Gender Discrimination

With all of the progress made within the U.S. workforce unfortunately gender inequality continues to survive.  It’s estimated that women earn 22 cents less on every dollar that a man earns for the same job. It doesn’t appear that this trend will be at an end soon.  The IWPR (Institute for Women’s Policy Research) finds the gap will not be solved until the year 2058.  The United States has slightly lowered  gender gap in wages, however, there hasn’t been improvements in the gap since the middle of the 90s. 

Household chores, care for children, and elderly parents have continued to be the domain of women but men have started to contribute more significantly recently. However, women are still far more likely to perform these tasks than men.  For working women, this generally means that they must perform two jobs at the same time, one in their home and another in the workplace. A report released by the IWPR (Institute for Women’s Policy Research) which was an analysis of state and national data of employment of women and their earnings in 2013 said that Florida will likely be the first of the 50 states where men and women will have the same annual median wage. Obviously, this is considered good news. However, women must wait until the year 2038 to celebrate it because that’s when this equality in Florida is likely to take place.  Other places will be well into the next century before they reach this milestone in their state. 

  • Women in the U.S. in 2010 earned 81 cents for every dollar men (in their same job) earned.
  • The U.S. workforce has seen an increase in female participation reaching 60 percent in the year 2000.
  • From the year 2000 to 2013 this number declined to 46 percent with not increase expected by the year 2018.
  • Men and women were affected differently by the Great Recession (in the years 2007-2010).  Women lost few jobs than women but also experienced a less steady recovery from it.
  • Women who work part-time may be doing so because they aren’t able to land full-time work.  At the start of the Great Recession one in 10 women were reporting this phenomenon but at the end 1 in five reported this.
  • Unemployment for women is generally lower than it is for men and they are also lest likely to stay on the roles of unemployment long-term.
  • Women are more likely than men to work in the public sector by 50 percent.
  • Women who are over the age of 25 surpass their male peers in education.  They are 3 percent more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than men.         

The low wage workforce is overrepresented by women. In a report in 2010 by the GOA (Government Accountability Office), females made up almost 60 percent of this portion of the workforce. Other highlights of this report included:

  • Less-educated women were more likely to work part-time than less-educated men
  • Single woman had the lowest annual income of households, at roughly $27,000 annually
  • Low-wage single mother households would be the lowest if not for other sources of income like government aid and child support.  Without these dollars, these households would be below the poverty line.          

Leadership positions are not immune from the wage gap.  It’s reported that less than 25 percent of CEOs in the United States are women.  And those female CEOs make less than 75 percent of what a male CEO makes.  Research into Fortune 500 organizations in regard to women in Corporate Officer positions as well as on Boards of Directors found that if a company had 3 or more board member who were women, that Board gave 28 times the money to philanthropy than those with less women. This eye-popping number gives one pause.  

Pregnancy Discrimination                                               

Gender equality is easy to define.  It is each person being treated the same regardless of their sex.  Salary decisions, promotions, hiring decisions, firing decisions should all be made without regard to the sex of the individual.  To further this point, pregnancy should be treated like any other medical condition that is temporary.  It should not adversely affect that employee’s development, promotability, salary increases or any other aspect of employment.  Employers are legally unable to discriminated based on pregnancy as a gender issue.

Sexual Harassment

While the statistics on harassment in the workplace favors it being a gender equality issue it’s actually not.  The behaviors prohibited by law are regardless of the victim’s sex or sexual orientation.  Both sexes have been sexually harassed (unwanted advances, jokes and innuendo, offering advancement in exchange for sexual favors) in the workplace and it is illegal in all cases. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. 

Enforcing federal laws which make illegal workplace discrimination, in the United States, is the responsibility of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). This commission was formed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VIII) as an organization within the federal government.  The function of this agency is to enforce and interpret laws regarding workplace discrimination.  In order to meet its objectives, the EEOC issues regulations interpreting the law, administers EEO laws for employees of the federal government, litigates cases of discrimination, and holds hearings. In addition, the EEOC receives discrimination charges from employees, researches these charges, and then tries to negotiate settlements between employers and employees.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VIII) requires employers to ensure that promotions and employment cannot be based on someone’s religion, race, sex or national origin. Claims of discrimination in the workforce are investigated and any violators prosecuted by the EEOC.  Anti-discrimination laws that protect employees from discrimination are also implemented by the agency. Many states (and even companies) have agencies that are like the EEOC to hand charges of discrimination at the local level.

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