The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces multiple acts that protect employees from unfair workplace discrimination based on race, gender, religion, age or the existence of a disability. If you encounter unfair or biased behavior because you belong to a protected class, the commission provides you with the opportunity to protest through the workplace and, when necessary, in court.
Some forms of workplace bias occur without an employer making a conscious effort to favor one person over another. If your boss consistently promotes tall people over similarly qualified individuals of average height, the decision to select a taller candidate may be subconscious. Because the choice is not rooted in discrimination of a protected class, no definite legal recourse exists. Instead, consider bringing the unfair practice to the attention of human resources or your boss' superiors. After he is informed about the biased practices, he can work to correct his behavior and pick candidates for promotion based on objective criteria alone.
Harassment and Discrimination
When an employee's personal bias against a protected class of workers begins to manifest as harassment or discrimination, your employer needs to address the situation. Whether you are a witness or a victim of improper comments or actions, review your company's policy on reporting discrimination and file an official complaint according to protocol. Keep a copy of your claim and document any continued incidents. If the situation is not dealt with by your superiors, proceed up the chain of command at your organization until it is. If no one at your place of work ends the harassment, file a complaint with your state's employment agency and the EEOC.
Employers must provide employees with disabilities or other needs with reasonable accommodation upon request. For example, if you use a wheelchair and cannot attend necessary meetings in the boardroom because the door is too small, your employer must alter the door frame to allow passage or relocate the meetings. Similarly, if you belong to a religious order that requires a certain hairstyle or head covering, your employer must allow the cut or covering unless it poses a safety issue. Promptly providing requested accommodations or compromising on an alternate solution helps businesses avoid charges of unfair behavior and keeps employees as productive as possible.
Protections for Reporters
Equal employment rules protect you from unfair treatment for reporting illegal biased behaviors in the workplace. If your employer does not end the harassment or creates a hostile work environment for you, retain the documentation related to the initial incident and any evidence illustrating your subsequent treatment. Contact your state's agency for fair employment and the EEOC to file a formal complaint. After reviewing the case, the state or federal commission either files a lawsuit on your behalf or provides paperwork that allows you to sue your employer with a privately hired attorney.
- CDO Insights: Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace
- NOLO: Fighting Sexual Harassment
- ISEA: Workplace Harassment: Federal and State Protections for Employees
- NOLO: Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation
- NOLO: Filing an EEOC Charge of Discrimination
- NOLO: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Ashley Mott has 12 years of small business management experience and a BSBA in accounting from Columbia. She is a full-time government and public safety reporter for Gannett.