Workplace Discrimination: What To Do When It Happens

Stop Workplace Discrimination

There are heaps of different things that can derail productivity in an office setting. Tech issues, difficult clients and other unforeseeable problems can create difficult roadblocks that stunt efficiency. But in terms of the actual members of an organisation as human beings, none of those problems measure up to how damaging workplace discrimination can be.

As somebody who is either an HR professional, looked at to be a leader or both, it’s up to you to help curb this nefarious practice. Unsure how to do so? Read on to learn a bit more about workplace discrimination, how to deal with it and how to combat it.

What is workplace discrimination and how does it happen?

Discrimination at work can take many forms, some of which are harder to detect than others. However, an easy general idea of what constitutes workplace discrimination is the negative treatment of an individual based on a personal characteristic. Some of the more common characteristics that are the catalyst for workplace discrimination are:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Social Nature

Sometimes workplace discrimination happens on accident, with team members unaware that they’re subconsciously being discriminatory to their colleagues. Other times the negative practice is more overt, with people behaving in a nasty manner just because they don’t agree with the lifestyle or background of others.

How to deal with workplace discrimination

As an HR professional and/or a person holding a leadership role, the task of addressing complaints regarding discrimination in the workplace falls with you. This responsibility can be difficult to uphold, so it might help to keep these tips in mind when the time comes to carry out your duties.

  • Take complaints seriously

The first thing to do when somebody comes to you to make a complaint regarding workplace discrimination is to take him or her seriously. Perhaps the person making the complaint is known for sharing gossip or stirring up trouble in the office. And maybe the complaint is being lodged against the nicest, most generous team member. But, regardless of who is involved, remember to keep an open mind and don’t make snap judgments one way or the other.

  • Treat the person lodging the complaint with respect

A workplace discrimination complaint can cost a lot of time and effort in terms of enacting policies and trying to get to the bottom of what actually happened. Sometimes this time investment can breed resentment in the minds of HR professionals or others in the organisation. This is dangerous. Remember that the person making the complaint is a potential victim, and their goal is not to cause you headaches.

  • Follow procedure

Sometimes serious workplace discrimination allegations can involve legal proceedings, either right away or down the road. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure you and your organisation follow your established procedures as closely as possible. No matter how frivolous you think the allegations are, being careful with the rules and policies in place can save you from having more problems down the road.

  • Try to get the whole story

While you might not be a licensed private investigator, the onus will be on you to try to get to the bottom of what exactly happened. This involves donning your detective hat and trying to gather enough information to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Interview not only the person making the complaint and the accused person, but also others in their team that interact with them regularly. Take careful notes and try to record the conversations if possible to consult later.

  • Keep it quiet

There is no need to broadcast evidence of workplace discrimination while you are trying to figure out exactly what happened. Doing so can actually lead to even more discrimination. Try to keep your investigation out of the spotlight if possible to make your job easier.

How to prevent workplace discrimination

As with most HR issues arising in the business world today, one of the strongest weapons you can employ is knowledge. This is true not only for teams of employees, but also for the employers themselves. Everybody involved needs to realise that workplace discrimination can take place at any company, even ones with extra squeaky-clean reputations. Employers and employees should also have a firm grasp on discrimination laws while also understanding different types of people. This includes being knowledgeable in everything from sexual and religious orientations to everyday behaviours.

One great way to do this is by hiring law professionals or other HR experts who have experience dealing with such. Rent a training room, get the team together and just have them learn more about what it takes to be tolerant of different types of people. Help them realise different, potentially hidden methods of workplace discrimination and help them define introvert, extrovert, Muslim, ageism and any other areas of contention that you think might pertain to your office environment. Doing so can be the difference between a happy, harmonious, workplace and a messy discrimination issue.