How to Identify and Resolve Discrimination in the Workplace

by guestcontributor on September 8, 2013

We are all different in our ways, but as human beings, we are also the same. Unfortunately, it can be the differences that some people focus on, and in the workplace, this can lead to discomfort and even instances of discrimination. However, it can sometimes be difficult to determine if discrimination is taking place, and it may be even harder to resolve such issues to the satisfaction of all parties involved in the situation. However, if someone feels discriminated against, it is of the utmost importance that they are granted full consideration and made to feel comfortable in their work environment. The only problem is that many people don’t come forward to report instances of harassment, bullying, or other forms of discrimination. As a coworker, supervisor, manager, or business owner you need to be aware of your surroundings and remain alert to such situations where people being discriminated against may feel powerless to come forward and report the abuse. So here are just a few ways to identify discrimination issues in the workplace and resolve them post haste.

The thing to keep in mind is that not all discrimination is overt. Sometimes it masquerades under the guise of “friendly” joking or seemingly innocent banter. For example, employees should never engage in jokes at the expense of a group of people, be it by race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, just for example. Even if everyone seems to be laughing along, even members of the group being ridiculed, this is inappropriate behavior for the workplace and it should be discouraged. You never know who might be offended or feel harassed, even though they’re not speaking up.

Even asking “innocent” questions could be construed as discrimination if someone finds the line of questioning offensive. For example, if you overhear someone asking a disabled person how they drive a car or if they are able to procreate, this could be construed as discriminatory behavior. After all, nobody is questioning non-disabled employees about such things. Even calling someone a nickname like sweetheart or hon could be considered questionable. And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg; this type of behavior could be much more obvious and mean-spirited. Any time someone in the workplace is made to feel different, out of place, or bad about a personal condition that is beyond their control, it could be considered discrimination.

The best policy is to have a good training program in place to ensure that employees understand how to behave appropriately in the office setting. But even this may not put an end to discriminatory offenses, either intentional or as a result of sheer ignorance. And when such discrimination takes place you must empower employees at every level to respond, either by confronting the person responsible for the offense or reporting the matter to HR. People should be able to voice concerns and file complaints without the fear of reprisal, including disbelief, mockery, or even job loss. And there should be a zero tolerance policy in place for proven instances of discriminatory behavior, although a system of mediation may help to address such concerns without the necessity of outright firing.

If you want to learn more about possible instances of discrimination in the workplace and how to address them appropriately, websites like DiversityInc.com can give you the 411. But for the most part you know how people are supposed to behave in a professional environment. So if you see discrimination occurring, don’t hesitate to report it. It may not be the popular thing to do, but it is the right course of action and it helps to ensure a safer and more comfortable working environment for everyone moving forward.

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