Discrimination comes in as many shapes and sizes as people do. This is why the list of groups that have protected status under federal anti-discrimination laws seems to grow longer every few years. Even if you are among those whom federal law already protects, you may be feeling that someone at work is treating you unfairly.
Sometimes, however, there are subtle moments of discrimination that you might not easily recognize. For example, if you are a woman, your boss may expect you to make the coffee or take notes at a meeting. If you are a man, your company may assume you are willing to work long hours because your wife is taking care of the children.
Ill-mannered or illegal?
While these little slights may make your job annoying and demonstrate a lack of respect for your abilities, you may not consider filing a lawsuit or walking off the job because your boss puts you in charge of ordering lunch for the staff. In fact, you may be able to resolve these issues with a frank conversation. Your manager may not even realize he or she is behaving in an offensive manner. However, these actions may also indicate deeper discriminatory tendencies.
It is illegal, for example, for a company to refuse to hire you, to pay you less or to fire you because of your gender. Employers may not pass over women for promotions simply because they are female when they are equally or better qualified for the position than a man. Some employers may still harbor outdated notions that women are too emotional or delicate for leadership roles and that men are more aggressive and garner more respect as managers.
Recognizing when your rights are violated
A company or manager is breaking the law when he or she allows discrimination to interfere with your success on the job, including:
- Denying you family leave
- Penalizing you because you took family leave
- Denying you a job because you are pregnant
- Allowing hostility toward you because you took off to care for an aging parent
Dealing with discrimination is sometimes a delicate balance. For example, without knowing the other candidates, it may be difficult for you to be certain that you were as qualified for the job and that your gender or familial status was the reason the company passed you over.
You have options when you are facing discriminatory behavior on the job or in your job search. Speaking with an attorney may give you a clearer direction. The right lawyer will help you explore the possibilities and work with you in seeking a fair resolution.