What is discrimination in the workplace? You need to know since this unfortunate practice can occur in a myriad of forms-some obvious, such as bullying, and some not so obvious, such as derogatory emails about a co-worker sent from an employee's work account. Hiring in today's global society means you need to take every precaution to ensure your employees are clear about what's allowed and what isn't in the workplace.

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Rocket Lawyer offers a free Harassment Policy document that enables you to notify employees about your intent to provide a safe and a harassment-free work environment. This document provides you with a simple way to clarify what's considered harassment and spell out how to report such incidents.

What Small Business Needs to Watch Out For

To gauge the severity of workplace discrimination, consider this: A 2002 Rutgers University study found that 46 percent of African-American workers believed they had been treated unfairly by their employers, while only 10 percent of Caucasians reported the same. In addition, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that the highest number of employment discrimination charges in its history were filed in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010.

One of the outcomes of the civil rights movement is laws aimed at eliminating unfair practices in the workplace, including discrimination based on race, religion, gender and, more recently, sexual orientation.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from taking these actions against an employee based on the employee's race, national origin, gender or religion:

  • Harassment
  • Discipline
  • Termination
  • Refusing to Hire
  • Denying Training
  • Paying less or demoting
  • Failure to promote

Employers are also forbidden from creating policies that 'screen out' certain groups, such as women or minorities, in your hiring practices, or making them take tests for promotion on which you know a particular group scores badly. Reverse discrimination is also illegal.

Other forms of workplace discrimination include:

  • Equal pay discrimination
  • Age discrimination
  • Disability discrimination
  • National origin discrimination

How To Deal With It Under Employment Law

Equality has to be one of your top priorities as an employer. But identifying discrimination is not as easy as it once was.

'Today's discrimination is a lot more subtle' than in the 1950s, says Audrey Murrell, associate professor of business administration and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, in a Monster.com article. 'If we don't tell younger people out there that discrimination has taken a different form, then they'll think they're the problem.'

To protect yourself, document your policy training, how you investigate complaints, your hiring and promotion practices, how you develop managers and preventative training for employees.

These steps can help bolster your legal protection in case litigation arises from alleged discrimination.

Your employee handbook is an excellent source for providing employees with basic do's and don'ts as it relates to workplace harassment and labor laws. Rocket Lawyer enables you to create your own customized employee handbook.

Prevention Options for Health and Safety at Workplace

It's impossible to 100-percent eliminate the risk of a claim for unlawful discrimination. Taking proactive steps helps you build a harmonious work culture and lessen the possibility that discrimination will occur. Here are some tips Murrell offers for dealing with discrimination:

  • You need to recognize the difference between job level and job title. Murrell says giving an employee a particular title but not changing the level of responsibility and challenges can leave the employee feeling merely appeased and not fully trusted or valued within the organization.
  • Work to identify possible barriers to entry and advancement opportunities.
  • Which companies consistently do things right? Take notice of diversity leaders and integrate their best practices into your workplace culture.
  • Know your targeted recruitment strategies.
  • Mentorships can go a long way in creating environments that aren't prone to discrimination and facilitate diversity.
  • You might want to form diversity groups within your company.

Going Forward, Preventing Harassment

The best time to fight discrimination in your workplace is now-not after a complaint has been filed. Know the law. Make sure your HR department knows the law and your company's policies and then takes ongoing steps to teach them to employees. Promote diversity. Examine what diversity leaders do to make their organizations run smooth, and implement the practices that would work best for you. And always revisit your practices, policies and ways you can improve anti-discrimination efforts in your workplace.

These efforts are more than worthwhile-they're absolutely to a successful and safe workplace.

Get started Ask an Employment Lawyer a Question You'll hear back in one business day.

Get started Ask an Employment Lawyer a Question You'll hear back in one business day.