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Five Subtle Forms Of Workplace Discrimination

It may often seem easy to spot the signs of employment discrimination or harassment. Unfortunately, workers in any protected class have a great deal of experience recognizing discriminatory or harassing comments that can create a hostile work environment. However, the signs workplace discrimination based upon gender, racial, religious, age and unlawful conduct may be subtle and hard to detect. Supervisors and management may seem to interact well with workers, while allowing discriminatory policies to continue to infect the employment process.

While discrimination in the workplace is unlawful at every stage of the employment process - from the hiring stage, to promotions to termination - policies that have a disproportionate adverse impact on workers in protected classes may be hard to detect from a brief review of a single business decision. There are some subtle signs that discriminatory practices may be lurking in a workplace that limit job opportunities for some workers.

No list of discriminatory practices could cover every potential topic. Below is a short list of five common signals that bias may be a problem in a specific workplace.

  • Suspicious questions in the job interview: Anyone who has been in a job interview knows that the questions often seem obscure and confusing. However, an employer should not ask who will take care of your children while you are at work, when you completed school or other questions that use stereotypes about a job applicant's race, religion, gender, age or a variety of other protected class distinctions under California or federal law.
  • Disparate disciplinary decisions: Many people believe that wrongful termination is the sole evidence of employment discrimination. The truth of the matter is, the disciplinary process may involve acts of discrimination - even if a worker is not fired. Employers cannot treat workers differently in imposing disciplinary measures based on membership in protected classes.
  • Failure to provide reasonable accommodations: State and federal laws require employers to make reasonable accommodation for the religious beliefs of workers, as well as for workers with disabilities. Refusing to accommodate workers is a common form of discrimination that many employers continue to commit. A dress code that adversely impacts a worker's ability to practice his or her religious beliefs may be a sign of religious discrimination. Similarly, refusing to provide reasonable accommodations to allow a qualified worker with a disability to perform the job, or to engage in the benefits and privileges of working may violate the law.
  • The glass ceiling: When management does not reflect the overall diversity of the workplace there may be an unlawful glass ceiling at the core of the problem. Many workers advance through the lower levels of employment with ease, often receiving positive employment reviews along the way. However, a glass ceiling may arise at any level of employment, putting a quick end to promotions based upon unlawful discrimination.
  • Disparate decisions in setting job assignments: Segregating workers or assigning less-lucrative opportunities to workers based upon race, age, religion, gender and other protected classes is unlawful. The terms and conditions of employment should be assigned equally throughout the workplace. Assigning work based upon bias is a subtle form of the glass ceiling . A lack of diversity in higher paying jobs, including sales territories, may signal that unlawful bias is being used to provide promotional opportunities.

Most employers and human resource departments are well-aware of the existence of anti-discrimination laws. That does not mean they will always fully understand them. Policies may seem fair on their faces, but in real-world application, the policies may impact different groups in different ways. If you believe you are the victim of unlawful workplace discrimination, contact an experienced employment attorney and learn more about your rights.

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