While data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows workplace discrimination is on the decline, it unfortunately does still happen.
If you feel like you have been discriminated against at work or you just want to know the warning signs so you don’t fall victim, there are a number of key things to look for.
Everyone deserves to be treated fairly. If you see any of these red flags at work, it may be time to take action:
1. Suspicious Interview Questions
Discrimination can start as early as the interview process. At this stage, discriminatory behavior may include inappropriate questions, comments, or assumptions based on a candidate’s sex, gender identity or expression, age, race, and so forth. For example, if you are a woman interviewing for a role in a male-dominated industry and the interviewer asks about your likability, you might wonder whether a male applicant would be asked that same question.
2. Demeaning Communication
In discriminatory work environments, you may notice an unpleasant tone or character to the interactions you have with coworkers and/or supervisors. If you’re spoken to in a harsh or demeaning tone, or if offensive jokes and comments are made around you — especially in regard to protected class traits like race, gender, religion, age, or sexual orientation — that could be evidence of discrimination.
3. Unjust Disciplinary Action
Unjust criticism or unfair disciplinary action against you can be a sign of discrimination, especially if it comes from a superior. While it’s possible the superior may be acting out of unconscious bias, it’s also possible they are making a conscious effort to start a paper trail to support your termination.
4. Unequal Pay
Many employers discourage their employees from discussing their salaries with coworkers, but your right to do so is protected by federal law. Discussing salary with your coworkers can help you identify whether pay discrimination is occurring. If a coworker of yours in the same role with the same experience is being paid more than you are for the same work, that could be a sign of discrimination — especially if your coworker differs from you in terms of race, gender, age, etc.
5. Unfair Promotions
You can probably take one glance at the structure of your company to identify whether this type of discrimination may be taking place. For example, do only men occupy the managerial positions while women remain in administrative roles?
You may also experience this form of discrimination more directly: Even after proving you have the skills and interest to take on a higher role, you are passed over for someone less qualified.
6. References to Age
Does your superior make assumptions about your knowledge of technology based on your age? Have you heard coworkers make demeaning comments or jokes about people of a certain age group? These could be signs of age discrimination in your workplace.
For more expert HR insights, check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine:
Facing Discrimination? Here’s What You Can Do
It can be stressful, scary, and isolating to face discrimination at work. However, there are actions you can take to remedy the situation. Here are a few things to consider:
1. Seek Legal Advice
If you believe you are being discriminated against at work, you should contact a lawyer right away. A lawyer can explain your rights, assess your situation, and help you decide how to proceed while navigating your company’s complaint process.
2. Make a Record of the Discrimination
Relying on your memory when taking action against discriminatory behavior can often put you at a disadvantage. Your best bet is to try to document all incidents of discrimination as soon as they happen. Record, to the best of your abilities, what happened, when it happened, who was involved, and who witnessed it.
3. Diversify Your Income
You don’t want to be left without a paycheck if discrimination forces you to quit or leads to an unfair termination. Furthermore, if your sole source of income comes from the job in which discrimination is taking place, you may be less willing to report inappropriate behavior.
Finding ways to make extra cash, such as by starting a side hustle, can help you reduce your dependence on a single source of income. Although you may not be able to entirely replace your primary paycheck through a side gig, you will give yourself more options and buy yourself some time as you navigate the situation.
4. Build an Emergency Fund
It’s always good to have savings to fall back on, but it’s even more important to start building an emergency fund if you believe you are a victim of workplace discrimination. Should you quit your job or be fired, having that cushion will alleviate your stress and help you handle the situation more calmly and effectively. Aim to have enough money in your emergency fund to cover a few months of expenses while you look for a new job.
5. Talk to Your Manager
If you don’t want to file a formal legal complaint just yet, you may feel more comfortable discussing your concerns with your manager (assuming they are not involved). This option can be especially helpful if you believe the discrimination is coming from a place of unconscious bias rather than willful maliciousness.
6. Report the Discrimination to HR
Robert Bird, professor of business law at the University of Connecticut School of Business, says HR should be an employee’s first stop when they feel discrimination is occurring.
“However, if human resources has demonstrated itself not to be responsive after all efforts have been made, then that employee should consult the EEOC or the state employment agency,” Bird adds.
7. File a Charge of Discrimination With the EEOC
When you file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, you submit a signed statement asserting that your employer engaged in employment discrimination and requesting that the EEOC step in. This is the first step you need to take before you can file a discrimination lawsuit against your employer.
In general, you must file a charge of discrimination within 180 days of the day the discrimination took place. If you’re dealing with ongoing harassment, the EEOC will investigate all incidents of harassment, even if earlier incidents happened more than 180 days prior.
In summary, if you feel you’re a victim of workplace discrimination, the most important thing to do is to keep a diary of all the actions taken against you. You may also want to consider obtaining legal help and, when you’re ready, following your company’s policy for reporting discriminatory behavior. If you can’t reach a solution with your employer, consider reaching out to the EEOC for further assistance.
Matt Miczulski is an associate writer at FinanceBuzz.