Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Workplace rights and on the job discrimination

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on February 4, 2010

I am not an attorney so when I write on a topic like job discrimination it is not so much to provide definitive answers, as to raise questions – questions that employees should keep in mind as they carry out their professional duties, work for specific employers, and manage their careers. I started this discussion with a posting on January 25, 2010: Job Discrimination in Perception and Fact where I focused on discrimination and the appearance of discrimination as it can arise during the job search. Unfortunately, this does happen and while it can manifest during the search, it can also arise for people who are already on the job.

• Am I facing job discrimination that is illegal and for which I have legal recourse, or do I simply have a poorly trained, offensive co-worker or supervisor?
• Am I being singled out as a specific individual or is the behavior I am experiencing being shown towards every employee in this business, or in my department or unit?
• Does that type of distinction matter?
• What are my rights?

Ultimately, you need to get more expert legal advice to help you where your face discriminatory practices or behavior, but I do want to point out here that you have rights to work in a safe environment, free of harassment, coercion or intimidation. More than that, mechanisms are in place that are intended to help you address and correct this type of problem, or find redress for it where you find that you are facing these and related issues.

In my earlier posting I cited what has become a standard list of issues where discriminatory behavior can cross a legal threshold as far as violating your rights are concerned. To repeat that list here, systematic, ongoing behavior that harasses, threatens or demeans on the basis of:

• Race.
• Sex.
• Color.
• Religion.
• National origin.
• Birthplace.
• Age.
• Disability.
• Marital or family status.

can easily cross a threshold into being illegal discrimination, and I will add that:

• Sexual orientation and gender identity.

is also on its way to achieving this status as well, and with similar legal protection.

Know your rights. This is a topic that should be covered in any new employee orientation meeting, and materials documenting both your rights and how you can protect them should be available through your employer’s Human Resources department at any time.

• If you are a member of a union, your union representatives should be able to help you find the right person or people within their organization to help you, both in clearly outlining the issues and your experiences, and in seeking redress if appropriate.
• If a meeting has to be held with your supervisor, or with their supervisor, with a representative from Human Resources or with others representing your employer you should have the right to have a union representative present.
• Whether you are a member of a union or not, you have the right to council and for a legal representative to be present.
• This definitely includes any disciplinary meeting or hearing that might be brought up against you, and certainly where this might be prompted in retaliation of your speaking out in your own defense.
• Many employers have people on-staff or otherwise available (e.g. outside, third party consultants) who have as a specific responsibility the role of employee advocate. If you feel yourself to be a victim of discrimination you have a right to meet with them and for them to attend any meetings where this might be addressed.

Know your rights, and remember that freedom from discrimination and discriminatory behavior is one of them, and by law.

• Document the evidence and where possible find and secure the participation of witnesses in presenting your case.
• It is important to note here that this behavior does not have to be directed towards you specifically to be discriminatory towards you. Discriminatory behavior creates a pervasive atmosphere of intimidation and threat. Employees forced to bear witness to overtly discriminatory behavior are also being discriminated against as this type of behavior creates a toxic atmosphere throughout the workplace.

I write this posting from a United States legal system perspective, but much of what I write here applies to other countries and legal systems too, if perhaps with somewhat different lists as to protected traits and issues.

Whistleblowers who bring up issues and evidence as to discriminatory behavior should seek legal advice too, and in the United States there are specific laws protecting them, both at a federal and frequently at a state level.

Know your rights. Get a copy of the employee handbook or its equivalent from your employer and read it and keep it.

I started this topic looking at discrimination in the hiring process and moved on in this posting to discuss something of this issue for employees on the job. That in both cases has focused on this from the perspective of employees and individual employees per se. I will post one more piece on this general topic in my series HR and Personnel where I will focus on the role that Human Resources should take here. I will also highlight a few very serious mistakes that I have seen otherwise very experienced and well trained HR personnel make in dealing with potential discrimination cases where they create liability risks both for themselves and for their business.

2 Responses

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  1. […] • Job Discrimination in Perception and Fact. • Workplace Rights and On the Job Discrimination. […]

  2. Jamie@Morbie Load Philippines said, on February 23, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Ive been lurking over here for so long and finally have the urge to comment. 1st of all, I wish to thank you for that fantastic posts. Second, thank you for writing Top quality content and not just rehashed posts that can be seen elsewhere. Undoubtedly a cool site I’d suggest.!..well, I’ve been bookmarking this site, that need to be enough proof of me recommending this lol.

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