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3 subtle influences that can contribute to workplace discrimination

On Behalf of | Feb 17, 2024 | Employment Law

Both employees and those running businesses sometimes fall victim to a cognitive trap when considering workplace discrimination. Specifically, it is quite common for people to assume that discrimination is usually overt and intense. They picture a supervisor making off-color remarks about someone’s race or sex or management blatantly ignoring claims of a hostile work environment.

Blatant discrimination is relatively uncommon, as modern workers and employers alike understand that discrimination is illegal. Therefore, it is necessary to look for signs of subtle discrimination instead of obvious misconduct. Both businesses and workers may need to watch carefully for any of the three forms of subtle discrimination below.

Discriminatory handbooks and policies

Companies that have operated for years sometimes have very outdated business documents. They might have employee handbooks drafted decades ago. Those handbooks might include terms that are technically discriminatory. An example might be a rule against natural hairstyles for those with wavy or curly hair or a requirement that men maintain clean-shaven faces. Certain dress code rules and even attendance policies can lead to discrimination based on someone’s race, age, sex, disability status or religion.

Implicit personal biases

Implicit bias training has become commonplace in law enforcement and medical environments. Licensing authorities and corporate employers want to ensure that those performing key services do not let their personal biases affect their job performance. Implicit bias doesn’t just affect those providing medical care or working for the state. It can also impact who someone in management terminates or nominates for managerial training. Anyone in a position to make employment decisions at a company could let their personal biases affect the decisions that they make. Therefore, companies may need to both offer implicit bias training and carefully screen major employment decisions for signs of personal prejudice.

An inflexible work culture

People from different backgrounds and with different levels of physical abilities may require different types of support from employers. Unfortunately, some companies try to maintain a completely uniform company culture that demands the same conduct and appearance from every employee. While such standards can make expectations clear, they can put workers in a variety of situations at a disadvantage. Someone’s religion, medical status, age, race or sex could potentially affect how well they conform to the company’s culture and workplace expectations.

Workers sometimes need to speak up when they notice that company practices lead to discrimination against a group, even if they don’t belong to that group. Businesses may also need to review how they operate occasionally to check for subtle signs of discrimination and influences that could lead to litigation against the company. Realizing that discrimination is often subtle can benefit workers trying to stand up for themselves and companies trying to avoid employee lawsuits.