Your job is probably not the funnest part of your day on any normal day, but if you’re experiencing workplace discrimination on top of it, you’re probably in a uniquely uncomfortable and miserable experience. After all, who wants to raise trouble with the people who give you a paycheck? How much do you have to weigh the risk of unfair retaliation versus the need to speak up?
The anxiety of disrupting the flow of your place of employment pitted against allowing your rights to be trampled can be overwhelming for many people. Luckily, many laws exist to protect against such bigotry. Here are five steps to take to deal with workplace discrimination.
As soon as you believe you may be experiencing discrimination, begin documenting notable events. This is crucial to identifying any trends you believe you are experiencing and to proving your case when you are asked to (and you will be asked to). You will likely need a combination of direct and circumstantial evidence in order to make your case, as you will be unlikely to get enough direct evidence of any discrimination from most people.
Documentation includes saving or keeping a record of any rude or discriminatory texts, emails, memos, or conversations, and noting when and where they occurred, as well as between who. This should be kept somewhere safe, secure, and private rather than shown to multiple people.
Educate yourself on your legal rights
Once you have documented evidence of an observable trend of discrimination from a coworker or employer, begin educating yourself on your rights. Different states will have different rules regarding an employer’s right to fire employees, but all states are protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ensures that employees cannot be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, nationality, sex, or religion. Subsequent acts also federally protect against ageism and disabilities without an attempt at reasonable accommodations.
However, businesses with less than 15 employees have exemptions. You need to be aware of what your company’s size is as you search your legal rights, since smaller employers are often exempt from discrimination laws.
Speak to a supervisor
Whether formally or informally, you need to make a supervisor in your company aware that you feel discrimination is taking place. This can be in a conversation with your boss, or it can be in a meeting with your company’s Human Resources representative. Your company will not take action until you directly ask them to.
In the conversation you must convey that you believe you are experiencing discrimination, not just uncomfortable or in a dispute with a co-worker. Make sure the company understands you believe your rights are being violated and ask for a follow-up, or for the company to take steps to address your claims.
File an official report
If a conversation with a supervisor does not prove fruitful, you will want to file an official report of discrimination with the company’s HR department. In this report you must include all evidence, circumstantial or direct, of discrimination to your company who should evaluate it according to their own procedures. Ask them to investigate your complaint and provide a written report following the evaluation.
If the report decides to dismiss your claim or you are unable to file an official report outright, you should consider turning to federal options for protection, including contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and file your grievance with the government.
Seek legal counsel
If your employer will not help you in your discrimination case or is the source of discrimination, you can turn to legal counsel to receive legal compensation in court from your company, including back pay, front pay, lost benefits, emotional distress, or punitive damages. An attorney may specialize in a field, such as disability discrimination, which might be more pertinent to your case. An attorney can also explain your state’s employment and discrimination laws to you and help you decide what path to take to address your discrimination complaints, whether it includes a lawsuit or not.
Your workplace shouldn’t be a place of harassment, bigotry, or discrimination. If you think you’re experiencing that at your job, consider looking into your options for addressing workplace discrimination to bring an end to unfair treatment.
Featured photo credit: Getty Images via thebalance.com