Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms—but they are all illegal. In some instances, you may be discriminated against due to your race or the color of your skin. Other times, gender, religion, nationality, familial status, disability, or age is a factor. Regardless of the source, discrimination in the workplace is something no one should have to face day in and day out. While most people believe that the topic of employment discrimination is cut and dry, it’s actually a complex concern that had led to many misconceptions. Here you’ll find just a few of the most common myths surrounding workplace discrimination debunked.
Myth: Employment Laws Don’t Apply In At-Will States
Some employees are under the misconception that if they live in an at-will state, federal and state employment laws such as anti-discrimination do not apply to them. At-will employment refers to contractual relationships in which an employee can be dismissed by any employer for any reason and without warning. However, the reason must be lawful. Employers who dismiss employees for unlawful reasons such as discrimination can face liability for their actions.
Myth: All Workers Over a Certain Age are Protected
Age discrimination is a common problem in the workplace. However, many older employees believe that they are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967. This act protects certain job applicants and employees who are 40 years of age or older from discrimination based on age in hiring, discharge, promotion, compensation, privileges, or terms and conditions of employment. The ADEA only protects some employees who are eligible under certain guidelines. ‘Covered’ employees include those with a private employer who has 20 or more employees at least 20 weeks of the year.
Myth: It’s Not Discrimination If It’s Against Someone of the Same National Origin
When it comes to national origin discrimination, it’s a common misconception that it’s not actually discrimination if it’s against someone of the same national origin. No matter your employer’s national origin, it’s still unlawful for him or her to discriminate against you due to your national origin. It’s also unlawful to treat an employee unfavorably due to their ethnicity, accent, or because they are from a particular country or part of the world.
Myth: Discrimination Laws Are for Women and Minorities
It’s a myth that discrimination laws are just for women and minorities. As every employee has their own unique gender, race, religion, and natural origin, each person has the right to be protected under workplace discrimination laws. Anyone can be discriminated against regardless if they are male or female or are considered a minority. Each person who has been discriminated against also has the right to bring their complaint of discrimination to the proper authorities according to state and federal anti-discrimination laws.
Myth: An Official Complaint Must Be Made Before Anything Can Be Done
If an employer or member of management tells you that an official complaint must be made before they can do anything regarding your complaint, this response is not sufficient. When it comes to employment law, there is no such thing as an “unofficial” complaint from an employee. Even if management receives a confidential or anonymous report, hears a rumor that is going around the workplace, or has any reason to suspect that something is amiss, it’s their responsibility to look into it. Failure to look into discrimination complaints can result in legal liability.
Myth: An Employer Can Require an Employee to Speak Only English at Work
If you speak a language other than English, you are under no obligation to only speak English in the workplace. The only exception to this rule is if speaking English is a necessity due to safety reasons or similar circumstances. In the United States, one in 10 working adults has limited proficiency in the English language. It’s considered discrimination to force these individuals to only speak English for an unlawful reason.
Myth: You Shouldn’t Complain to HR About Workplace Discrimination
You may be hesitant to bring your discrimination complaint to human resources or the higher-ups in fear of retaliation. While it’s true that retaliation is a possible outcome, bringing your complaint to management and the HR department can actually help your case. If you are serious about pursuing a discrimination case against your employer, notifying Human Resources of the problem can lead to an effective outcome in many cases. By talking to HR, you may also have the opportunity to be promoted or transferred to a new department.
Myth: Women Earn Less Due to the Industries They Work In
There is a belief that women earn less than men because most are in occupations that naturally pay less. For example, there are a larger percentage of men in high-paying careers like engineering. While there is certainly truth to this belief, it doesn’t tell the whole story. There continues to be a pay gap between men and women in nearly all industries. It was found that female financial specialists make 66 percent of what male financial specialists make.
Myth: Employees Have Little Power When It Comes to Discrimination
If you have been discriminated in the workplace due to your age, gender, religion, national origin, or other discriminatory factor, you do have power. Workplace discrimination is illegal and if it is happening to you, it’s important that you do something about it. Start by reporting your complaint to a manager or to HR. If the higher-ups refuse to do anything, file a complaint with the local, state, or federal government. You can also gain more power, credibility, and support when you work alongside your colleagues to air your complaint.
Workplace Discrimination Resolution
Discrimination in the workplace is common but not always easily recognized. Workplace discrimination can be subtle or blatant. It can also be carried out by colleagues, employers, or other management. If you have suffered unfair treatment due to any type of discrimination in the workplace, you have the right to make a complaint. However, proving workplace discrimination isn’t always easy. Working with an employment attorney can help you determine where you stand and how you should proceed regarding your discrimination complaint. Contact our legal professionals here at The Brown Firm for a free consultation.