A Lesson in Workplace Discrimination [Part 2]

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Red Pawn Not Feeling Apart Of Green PawnsIn part one of this article we talked about a shocking allegation turned lawsuit against OWN, megastar Oprah Winfrey’s television network, that broke earlier this month. Carolyn Hommel, former senior director at the network, alleged that she was discriminated against after being fired just one month after giving birth.

Dr. Cassi Fields of The Limited Exposure Theory Corporation sat down with Recruiter.com for a two-part interview on the different types of discrimination, how both employees and employers should handle this practice and what workers can take away from the Hommel case. Check out her expertise and insight in part two below:

1. Are there any signs or red flags that tell an employer its practices are discriminatory?

Definitely.  In one organization I know, there is 100 percent turnover for women. That means for every one woman who is hired, one woman quits. In another organization I know, they recruit terrific African Americans who ultimately leave for a lateral position in another firm. In some cases, employees are disgruntled or unhappy.

When persistent problems like these exist, a leaderpresumably someone at the very topneeds to conduct a thorough investigation to determine the source(s) of the problems. A full, objective organizational assessment can assist with identifying those problems, and identifying solutions.

2. How should companies handle discrimination accusations?

Companies should take each accusation seriously. Once a company dismisses a complaint as the “complainant’s problem,” it places itself in serious jeopardy. Instead, companies should investigate any accusation of discrimination and have a formal process in place to do so in a manner that allows those who are not at-fault, whether the claim is true or false, to remain undamaged.

Supervisors are required to intervene immediately if they observe any type of discrimination or they may be accused of discrimination too.  However, in some cases, supervisors directly discriminate themselves.

Dr. Cassi Fields 

Dr. Cassi Fields

3. Why is it important for an employer to be mindful of its employees’ needs, whether medical/physical or emotional?

Employers create an environment in which their employees expend significant time and energy.  Oftentimes, employees spend more time at work than at home. This tells us that the work environment has to promote employee success and satisfaction. An environment such as this allows the employer to attract more employees and increase its consumer base. There is also the concept of ‘reasonable accommodations.’

Employers are expected to retain employees who may have medical, physical or emotional problems that do not detract from their job capabilities. A reasonable accommodation might be additional lighting, wheelchair access, flexible work hours, modified work locations, etc. In the event that the employer has to make a reasonable accommodation to the working conditions to retain that employee, they are generally expected to do so. The term reasonable is subjective. In general, a reasonable accommodation is not overly costly or does not require an extensive amount of effort, such as rebuilding an entire office.

4. Final thoughts?

Discrimination is complex, it is subtle, it creates victimization, it perpetuates unfairness, and it is very difficult to address. I think it is very common that individuals in an organization discriminate against one person as a result of a personal characteristic such as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability and age. These types of people are protected under the civil rights laws. Since the 1960s when the civil rights laws were enacted, companies have been adopting policies to protect their employees and their entire organization from discrimination. However, there are still people in our workforce that dislike certain groups of people, have stereotypical beliefs, or just lack knowledge about what is legal behavior and what is not. Discrimination is very costly in terms of litigation, but it also attracts negative publicity that may turn away consumers.Employees and employers need regular education to help them avoid discrimination.

By Shala Marks