Finding helpful resources for Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policies should be easier. In 2016, 90,000 workplace harassment charges were filed with the EEOC.
Given the rise of the #MeToo movement, it’s easy to assume that we’ll see that number increase.
This has become an issue that every employer and employee should be equipped to handle. But, we’re not. Many of us lack the knowledge and therefore the confidence to deal with harassment and discrimination in the workplace. We’ve built a guideline for people looking for the basic information they need to handle these situations.
First of all, this is not legal advice. If you’re dealing with discrimination claims or making claims yourself, talk to a lawyer. A well-equipped HR department should be able to construct company policy in a way the prevents such harassment, and deal with any infractions. However, the system can fail and it’s important to find someone with your best interest at heart/wallet. Employers, more than anything, your HR department protects you. Employees, your HR department protects your employer more than anything. So, once a situation has been elevated to making a formal charge, be sure to have the correct information and personnel to deal with it from either side- not just advice from a blog.
What is Considered Discrimination in the Workplace?
Discrimination in the workplace happens when an employer makes a decision based on criteria they either shouldn’t have or shouldn’t consider when making that decision.
Certain groups are protected by discrimination law as more than others. For example, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits treating a person less favorably due to age if they’re over 40. The act expressly allows such discrimination to occur when the employee is under 40. Yes, 40 is an arbitrary line to draw in the sand, but it needed to be drawn somewhere. It’s important to understand that, due to most workplace legislation being reactionary, the law often isn’t what we think it is. So, it’s important to understand exactly what constitutes the type of discrimination you’re dealing with.
Discrimination is illegal in the following areas:
- Genetic information, (which refers to an employers knowledge of a workers likelihood to develop certain disorders or condition based on information gleaned from their DNA)
The EEOC has a full list of what each of these types of discrimination constitutes.
How to Make a Discrimination Claim
If discrimination takes place, the first step is to take notes. Any inappropriate behavior, especially if it happens continuously, should be logged and time-stamped and dated. Even if an individual incident alone doesn’t constitute discrimination, anything that demonstrates a hostile work environment will help your case.
Once you feel you have enough information gathered, act immediately. EEOC claims need to be filed within 180 days of the incident.
Review your company’s Anti-Discrimination policy. This should be in your Employee Handbook. In many cases, you’ll want to file internally and any claims filed with the EEOC will take whether the claim was first brought to the company into consideration.
Make sure you have a case. Evaluate your position against the criteria above to be certain that the behavior is actually illegal. Find a lawyer who specializes in discrimination law. Lawyers are expensive, but you should know that most lawyers will have an initial conversation for free before taking on a client. They’ll let you know where you stand. Furthermore, if you have a case for damages from the company, some lawyers are amenable to working for a percentage of the settlement.
Visit the EEOC online portal. The linked page also has a slew of recommendations and guidelines to help you. You may also file in-person or schedule a formal interview. Their Cleveland office has jurisdiction over every Ohio county.
Wait. This part sucks. They’ll get back to you. Don’t let your guard down- there are very strict laws regarding retaliation by employers towards employees who file claims. Any punishment for making a claim is strictly illegal.
The EEOC or your legal representative will take it from here. Cooperate with the investigation and, hopefully, good faith on both sides will create an amenable resolution.
None of this should have to happen. The interview process should be able to weed out any unacceptable behaviors, training should shore up any misconceptions employees might have, and the leadership and HR department should understand that creating effective discrimination policy is in their own best interest. You shouldn’t need to know any of this.
The goal of an effective HR policy is to prevent and prepare a company for these kinds of situations, and workplace discrimination is a really ugly one.