With the recent headlines about sexual harassment and discrimination in Hollywood and other high-profile arenas, you may be becoming more aware of what is and is not acceptable in your own workplace. Since many of the current claims that are making headlines contain relatively straightforward allegations about prohibited behavior that is clearly outlined in employment law, it is easy to identify them as violations. However, this is another kind of discrimination that is harder to identify.
According to employment laws, your boss cannot blatantly discriminate against you for being a woman. Through indirect discrimination, your employer can take actions that do not seem discriminatory on the surface, but actually result in discrimination.
What is indirect discrimination?
In U.S. law, there are groups that fall into one protected class or another. You might be in a protected class based on your race, sex or age. Also, your religion, national origin or a disability might also place you in a protected class. For example, as a woman, you are protected from discrimination in the workplace. This also includes protection from indirect discrimination. In general, indirect discrimination occurs when a person in a protected class experiences a disadvantage in the workplace, perhaps through employment policies, that a larger group of employees does not.
What policies might be indirect discrimination?
Any type of policy that has an overall effect of barring a protected group from employment can be indirect discrimination. For example, a company once required that applicants pass an IQ test and have a high school diploma to advance to high paying positions within the organization. This policy resulted in a court case where the judge ruled that the policy did not fulfill a legitimate business purpose and was, in reality, an indirect way of denying these positions to African American applicants.
Employers can also take steps to discriminate against a protected class in a more purposeful manner, but which is still indirect. In a disparate treatment situation, two employees with essentially the same skills and qualifications receive much different treatment from the boss. For example, if you apply for a higher position within the company and you fulfill all of the job requirements but management denies you the position and continues searching for a male applicate that has your same experience and skills, then you might be a victim of disparate treatment.
In the workplace, discrimination can be very obvious, or it can be indirect. Regardless of the form it takes, it is always important to remember that you have rights and options.