Top 5 Steps to Address Discrimination at Work

Workplace conflicts are an unfortunate part of being in the professional world. Some conflicts, however, are more than just a clash of personalities. In some cases, the treatment by a co-worker or supervisor is patently unfair, and possibly even workplace discrimination.

If you are facing unfair treatment at work — even if it’s not legally discrimination — here are our top 5 steps to address discrimination at work:

  1. Attempt an amicable resolution
  2. Report the conduct
  3. Call it what it is: discrimination
  4. Put the discriminatory treatment in writing
  5. Keep records of the discriminatory treatment


If have been experiencing issues at work, such as age, gender, race, disability, religious, national origin discrimination, wrongful suspension, or wrongful termination, contact us for a free consultation with our legal team.


1. Attempt an Amicable Resolution

Most managers, supervisors, and human resource departments will ask you to attempt to amicably resolve the issue directly. This can be a delicate process if there is already conflict between two co-workers. Sadly, in the context of discrimination, this also puts the burden on the victim to resolve the conflict, which may be impossible due to the coworker’s bias. Try not to take their response personally or blame yourself for the situation, while still being mindful of the potential of your words and actions to escalate conflict.

When attempting an amicable resolution keep the following things in mind:

  • Use “I” statements (I feel, I notice, I would like, etc.) rather than “you” statements.
  • Keep it simple. Do not bring back up a lot of different conflicts at the same time.
  • Stay solution-oriented rather than problem-oriented. What can I do better? What can I do next?
  • Put it in writing for the purpose of documentation.
  • Have a neutral party proof-read and make sure it does not sound disrespectful. Human resources personnel may be available for this!

Here is some sample language for an email:

James,

I understand that you did what was best for the team on Friday, but I have been feeling discouraged since you omitted me from the recent project. I really care about my work, our team, and the success of our project. I want to let you know that I am open to any critical feedback you may have about how I approach my work, so that I can improve and be a better candidate for future projects. I hope we can keep working together to create a harmonious work environment for us both. I respect your work and all you do for the team. Hope you have a good weekend and I look forward to seeing you on Monday!

Kind regards,
Eric


2. Report the Conduct

If you are not able to amicably resolve the conflict directly with your coworker, report the conduct to a supervisor, manager, or human resources. Your employer must know about the unlawful treatment to be legally responsible for a co-worker or customer’s conduct.


3. Call It What It Is: Discrimination

If the treatment you are facing is discrimination in the workplace, say so. Too often we see prospective clients who have made an unclear report of discrimination. Understandably, it is extremely difficult to accuse someone of discrimination and this is not something to be taken lightly for anyone involved.

Further complicating the matter, many employees fear that once they expose discrimination, they will lose job security or be retaliated against. Be aware that if you are retaliated against, retaliation for reporting discrimination is unlawful and may justify a lawsuit.

Here are some examples of specific language to use when you report to management and human resources:

  • I am worried that [Co-Worker] is discriminating against me based on my [age, race, gender, etc.]. Provide examples.
  • [Co-Worker] is not treating me the same as they treat other [younger, white, male, etc.] coworkers. Provide examples.
  • [Co-Worker] has made discriminatory comments that need to be addressed by management.

If management or HR responds by asking you to handle it directly, tell them what you have already done and reiterate that you believe further attempts to resolve the matter will make things worse because of the nature of the coworker’s bias against you.

Be aware that management and human resources are often reluctant to accuse someone of discriminatory behavior. They will need “evidence” that it is more than the “typical” interpersonal conflict. If the reporting party indicates that it is a general problem (“He treats everyone like this”) or indicates that the problem is the co-worker’s communication or management style, the company will treat the problem as a communication or management issue. The result is that they may offer coaching to the discriminator to improve their communication or management style. The company is extremely unlikely to document or treat the conflict as discrimination unless (and sometimes even if) the reporter uses very specific language identifying unlawful discrimination and provides clear examples.


4. Put the Discriminatory Treatment in Writing

Although a verbal report is a great place to start and may increase empathy between parties, follow up with an email for the purpose of record keeping. A simple email such as, “Dear Ms. Smith, Thank you for meeting with me today so that I could report [race, age, gender] discrimination. Please keep in touch regarding the results of any investigation and any next steps the company can take to assist me in a resolution, including but not limited to a possible transfer out of Mr. Beem’s supervision. I appreciate your attention to this.”


5. Keep Records of the Discriminatory Treatment

If you anticipate filing a lawsuit, you will need to gather documents to support your claims. These may include the following (and the more you have, the better):

  • Documentation of your good performance, performance reviews
  • Proof of positive relationships with coworkers
  • Documentation of any reports of discrimination (emails forwarded to your personal email or saved as a PDF, scans, etc.)
  • Documents that prove the discriminatory conduct. Documents may include audio recordings, video, photos, emails, texts, etc. that demonstrate:
    • Either direct discrimination (e.g., using stereotypes, slurs, or making racist remarks), or
    • Indirect/comparative discrimination (e.g., showing favoritism based on a protected class [race, gender, age, ability, etc.], treating others more fairly, showing more willingness to work with others or accommodate their failures)
  • Documentation of retaliatory actions
  • Discriminatory PIPs/write-ups
  • Documentation of refusal to correspond by email and text
  • Documentation of any escalation of conflict after your report

If you’ve experienced workplace discrimination, Jackson Spencer Law can help.

If you’re facing discrimination in the workplace due to your age or any other protected category, contact our experienced employment attorneys today. We’ll tackle your case with honest advice and aggressive representation to protect your rights as an employee.