By Kellie Hand
When faced with discrimination in the workplace, it is important to take action as soon as possible, as there are time limits for filing discrimination claims. The best way to protect yourself from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation is to (1) know your legal rights, (2) document everything allowed within state law and company policy (3) consult a legal professional, and (4) remember to take care of your mental and physical health.
Know Your Rights
In the U.S., employees and job applicants are protected from discrimination in various aspects of employment under federal and state laws. These protections are based on specific “protected classes” such as Race, Color, National Origin, Religion, Sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), Pregnancy (including childbirth or related medical conditions), Age, Disability, and Genetic Information.
Note: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40+ years old from age discrimination. However, state laws may have a lower age threshold. For example, New York State’s age discrimination law protects individuals 18+ years old.
Employment aspects protected from discrimination include (but are not limited to):
- Hiring and firing;
- Compensation, assignment, or classification of employees;
- Transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall;
- Job advertisements;
- Use of company facilities;
- Training and apprenticeship programs;
- Fringe benefits;
- Pay, retirement plans, and disability leave;
- Other terms and conditions of employment.
Employees are also protected from retaliation if they engage in a legally protected activity, such as reporting discrimination or participating in a discrimination proceeding or investigation.
Start by keeping a record of each incident you believe is discriminatory. This can include emails, memos, text messages, or any other form of communication. Also, make a note of any verbal conversations. Be as detailed as possible – write down dates, times, locations, people involved, what was said, and any witnesses. However, please be aware that what you can record and document will vary depending on state laws and company policies.
Report the discrimination to your supervisor, Human Resources department, or any other relevant authority in your organization. Be sure to follow the company’s procedures for reporting, and do this in writing so you have a record of your report. Additionally, keep copies of your job evaluations and any letters or memos that show you perform your job well. This can be crucial if your employer tries to defend their actions by criticizing your job performance.
Get Legal Advice
If you feel you may be experiencing discrimination, consult with an employment law attorney right away to ensure that you are taking the best possible steps from the start. An employment lawyer can provide advice tailored to your specific situation, guide you through the process, and help protect your rights.
Take Care of Yourself
Experiencing discrimination in the workplace can be emotionally draining. Therefore, it is important to seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional. Taking care of your physical health is also vital during stressful times.