Subtle Signs of Workplace Discrimination

June 23rd, 2023

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Whatever else they may be, most employers aren’t dumb. They know that engaging in discrimination, harassment or retaliation against protected groups in hiring and employment practices is illegal. They also understand that discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims can negatively affect their finances and their reputations.

That’s why workplace discrimination is often subtle and nuanced rather than overt and obvious. Some workers may experience blatantly wrongful conduct, such as racial slurs or inappropriate sexual behavior; but rare is the employer who comes right out and says to a job candidate, “Sorry, but we don’t hire Black people,” or tells an employee that they’re being paid less because they have a disability.

As such, it may not be readily apparent to workers that they’re victims of prohibited workplace discrimination. Even when they think their employers or supervisors are treating them unfairly, such as denying them raises or reducing their hours, they may not recognize if such actions are based, in whole or in part, on their race, gender, age, religion, national origin, disability or other characteristic protected under federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

That’s why employees should be aware of the many ways that employers can engage in illegal discrimination. Rather than accepting such mistreatment or seething in frustration, workers on the receiving end of discriminatory conduct can take action to hold their employers accountable under the rights and remedies provided by law.

If you experience or become aware of the following, you should consider meeting with an experienced employment lawyer who can evaluate your circumstances, conduct further investigation and advise you on how to proceed.

Unfair Promotion Practices and Limitation of Opportunities

One of the most fundamental forms of workplace discrimination involves “unfair treatment” because of an employee’s membership in a protected class. This often manifests as disparate treatment in promotions, opportunities, job responsibilities or hours. Common examples of such actions, which are illegal if based on an employee’s protected characteristics, include:

    • Involuntary reduction of hours
    • Assignment to undesirable or less-favorable shifts
    • Reassignment to a different department or location
    • Removal or limitation of job responsibilities
    • Exclusion from meetings or other communications
    • Denial of opportunities to work with certain clients
    • Assignment to less profitable territories
    • Patterns of people in specific groups who receive promotions over equally or more qualified workers
    • Inconsistent or unsupportable reasons given for denial of promotion or exclusion from opportunities

Unequal Treatment In Disciplinary Actions

Unequal discipline is another common form of workplace discrimination. Some signs of unfair and unequal treatment in disciplinary actions include:

    • Being disciplined for the same conduct that the employer excused or overlooks with other workers
    • Sudden or surprising negative performance reviews
    • Bypassing established disciplinary procedures or consequences
    • Disproportionate consequences for minor transgressions

Inappropriate Questions or Comments During the Hiring Process

Discrimination against job candidates is as insidious as discrimination against employees and can be equally hard to identify. Whether a company systemically discriminates against certain groups in hiring won’t necessarily be revealed on the basis of one rejected applicant. But further investigation is warranted if the company’s workforce lacks diversity in race, gender, age or other protected characteristics. The scrutiny may uncover discriminatory intent or effect.

But discrimination may also subtly reveal itself in the interview process in the form of inappropriate questions or comments. Any inquiries about age, race, national origin, gender, religion, marital or family status, and disabilities are prohibited. But an interviewer may not be direct when probing these off-limits areas. Instead of asking, “How old are you?” they may ask, “When did you graduate from college?” Rather than asking, “What’s your ethnicity?” they might say, “That’s an interesting accent. Where is that from?”

No matter what form it takes, workplace discrimination is illegal. It unfairly deprives qualified individuals of opportunities or subjects them to hurtful and demeaning behavior or comments. No one should have to abide by or endure such treatment. If you suspect that you’ve been a victim of prohibited discrimination, we welcome the opportunity to meet with you. During a free, confidential consultation, our employment discrimination lawyers will listen to your story, answer your questions, help determine if you have grounds to pursue a claim, and explore options for addressing illegal conduct. Call Halunen Law at 612-605-4098 or complete our contact form to arrange for your consultation.

Brent P. Benrud

As chair of Halunen Law’s Employment Practice Group, Brent Benrud is a leader with decades of litigation experience and a depth of knowledge that he brings to his practice and the work of the employment attorneys in his practice group. His broad understanding of employment issues from both the employee and employer sides, gives him a distinct perspective from which to be a highly effective advocate for employees.

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