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How To Respond To Discrimination At Work

There are many forms of discrimination and related harassment in workplaces. However, no matter where you work or how prominent your employer is, you have legal rights under state and federal law.

As an employee, facing discrimination can put you in a precarious position. Many employees do not know how to address this situation in a way that protects their best interests. The Rutten Law Firm, APC, is prepared to guide employees through these cases.

Review The Employer’s Policy And The Law

Review your company’s anti-discrimination policy, which may be in your employee handbook or manual, or may be posted somewhere in your plant or office. The fact that your employer may have put an anti-discrimination policy and procedures in writing and acknowledged that it will not act in discriminatory ways may serve to benefit your position.

If you have a copy of the policy in a handbook or other handout, retain a copy of it. Employers are also required to post in a prominent place various posters required by state and federal discrimination laws explaining your rights under the law.

State and local laws and ordinances against discrimination vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and may be called something different in each jurisdiction. If you have access to the Internet or can use a library or other means to obtain such access, you may be able to locate information on your rights under these laws and ordinances, or you may do so by calling your city, county or state offices.

Seek Internal Resolutions

Report the discrimination or harassment to your employer, making it clear that you take the incidents seriously. Follow any policies and procedures that the employer may have put in place regarding reports of discrimination or harassment.

If no such procedures exist, make sure you report it to your immediate supervisor. If your supervisor is the perpetrator of the illegal activity, then report it to your supervisor’s superior instead. Many employers have designated a specific managerial or human resources representative who is responsible for accepting complaints of discrimination and harassment. If that is the case in your situation, report your complaint directly to that individual.

When you report discrimination, your employer cannot retaliate against you for doing so. Regardless of whether you are able to eventually prove discrimination, retaliation is illegal for good-faith reporting. If you falsely report discrimination in bad faith, however, you could face ramifications – the least of which may be an uncomfortable relationship with the other party.

Properly Document All Communications

Creating a record of discrimination and harassment is an important part of protecting your rights. There are two main ways to document your situation: creating your own record and creating an internal record within your employer’s organization.

Start a personal journal of your experiences – before and after reporting discrimination – detailing the following:

  • Dates and times of specific incidents
  • What the discriminatory or harassing activity involved
  • Who witnessed or contributed to the incident
  • Photos, emails or other evidence of what happened
  • How the actions made you feel and impacted your work or life
  • What you did, if anything, to seek a remedy through your employer

Keep any objects, photocopies or other physical forms of evidence if possible. Although it can be difficult to hang on to disturbing symbols and messages, they may be critical for your case.

In addition to keeping a journal, request a formal written report whenever you report discrimination at work. This will create a cohesive record for your case if the employer does not resolve the issue for you. Requesting an internal investigation is also sometimes necessary to get the discriminatory or harassing activity to stop. Do not minimize the hardships you face due to discrimination.

Seek External Remedies Through Government Agencies

If your employer does not offer a serious response to your complaints, contacting a government agency may be the best next step. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state agencies share the task of ensuring employment law compliance. If an employer is not complying with anti-discrimination laws, these agencies will hold them accountable.

When you are at this step, it is also important to consult with an attorney if you have not already. Your attorney can help represent you during the agency investigation and protect you from retaliation.

Remember that, in most cases, once you believe you are being discriminated against, you have a limited amount of time to file a charge with the EEOC or with your state or local fair employment practices agency, or to seek to vindicate your rights in court. The time limits vary between agencies and laws. If you fail to assert your rights within these limitations or filing periods, once knowing that they have been violated, you risk having your case dismissed at the outset.

Consult With An Attorney When You Need Protection

If you believe your rights have been violated, you should consider retaining an attorney as early as possible in the process. An attorney can help you sort through the complex laws which may apply, guide you through the complexities of the legal process and remain a calm and collected advocate for your rights.

Discrimination or harassment is an awful thing, which tears at the emotions of the person who is being discriminated against or harassed and, in some cases, it becomes difficult to separate from those emotions and face the realities and boundaries of the legal system. An attorney, while striving to help you and concerned for your fate, can also look at the big picture more clearly and can help you stay focused on protecting your rights and repairing your emotions. Call 818-308-5945 or email our office for a consultation.