These days, workplace discrimination is (unfortunately) a very hot topic. It seems not a day goes by when we don’t hear of a case of an employee somewhere being harassed for their age, gender, race, or sexual orientation. According to the latest data from the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, there were 72,675 workplace discrimination complaints in 2019 alone – and that ignores the ones made to many local agencies.
As disturbing as those numbers are, the fact is that many more workers face discrimination at work daily and never report it. Many employees suffer discriminatory practices and do not even realize it is prohibited by law. To shed some light on the subject, here are three lesser-known types of workplace discrimination.
It’s no secret that American employers value productivity and dedication above almost all else. That idea is reinforced by the fact that the United States remains the only economically advanced nation without a federal minimum paid leave law. An unfortunate side effect is that it can foster discrimination against workers that have obligations outside of work that require them to take regular time off or work on flexible schedules.
This is a particularly big issue for single parents and family caregivers, who have little control over when their family situation will demand they miss time at work. People in those situations are often discriminated against in the form of being passed over for promotions, denied regular salary increases, or denied requests for time off to care for a loved one in need. Sadly, it is all too common for a parent to be denied leave time just to bond with their newborn.
Despite all of the attention now given to the advances of women in the workplace, there’s a massive problem that is still not being sufficiently addressed: pregnancy discrimination. It’s a situation that is all too common for female workers, who face the loss of their income and careers when they become pregnant. The problem is especially rampant in the financial sector, as scores of overworked New York pregnancy discrimination attorneys can attest.
It’s also an issue that knows no demographic boundaries – affecting women of all socioeconomic statuses and backgrounds, at all levels of the economy. All of that is the case, despite the fact that discriminating against pregnant employees has been explicitly illegal in the United States since 1978. It’s yet another example of workplace discrimination that continues unabated.
Steven Fingerhut, an attorney at Phillips & Associates, PLLC, regularly represents pregnant women that are either denied requests for reasonable accommodations in the workplace or are unlawfully terminated due to their pregnancy. According to Mr Fingerhut, “Employers routinely dismiss soon-to-be mothers, reasoning that permitting pregnant employees to work for them could be a liability. However, pregnant women have every right to work. Terminating their employment solely on the basis of their pregnancy is not only unlawful but a step in the wrong direction for women’s equality in the workplace.”
In today’s economy, it’s generally believed that we’re about as close to full employment as we’ve ever been before. That reality is pushing more traditionally underrepresented groups into the labor force, changing its composition in ways that we have never seen before. A prime example of this is the fact that people aged 65 and over are now the fastest-growing segment of the US labor pool.
That, in turn, is driving a sharp increase in the number of incidents of age discrimination in the workplace. According to a recent survey, two in three US workers aged 45 or older report seeing or experiencing such discrimination at work, and that number seems to be rising. As long as unemployment remains low and more older Americans are forced to keep working due to financial insecurity as they approach retirement, age discrimination is likely to remain an issue for some time to come.
Don’t Ignore Discrimination
The bottom line here is that there are more forms of workplace discrimination than most people realize, and many of them go on every day right in front of our eyes. For most people, it’s just easier to go on with their day and overlook any troubling episodes they experience or happen to witness at work. Unfortunately, every time a victim of discrimination or a witness fails to speak up, they help to perpetuate a situation that’s harmful to everyone in the workplace.
It’s also important to recognize that discrimination isn’t always explicit. Sometimes it is unconscious and systemic – and is only uncovered through careful statistical analysis. It’s up to business leaders to take an active role in rooting out that kind of discrimination and to guide their organizations to do better.
When it comes down to it, solving workplace discrimination in all its forms is up to all stakeholders in the economy. It’s certain to continue being an issue until everyone sets to work to fix the problem.