How to Identify Discrimination in the Workplace: 6 Red Flags

Discrimination against certain classes of people became unlawful in 1964, but it still threatens many employees throughout the country. Discriminatory practices may, however, be more subtle than when they were legal.

Clear-cut, blatant discrimination is easier to identify and, therefore, easier to prove in a lawsuit. Subtle forms of discrimination often go unnoticed, especially when no one is on the lookout for red flags. If you have a feeling you or your colleagues experienced discrimination, you may have noticed certain signs that indicate your employer’s prejudice.

Here are 6 red flags that may predict or reveal workplace discrimination:

  1. Interview questions regarding the applicant’s protected class. By law, potential employers must avoid asking a wide variety of questions during an interview. These include (but are not limited to) questions about marital status, parenthood, sexual orientation, citizenship status, disability, and, in some states, salary history. If this information was required to determine your qualifications, you likely faced (or will face) the threat of discrimination.
  2. Questionable language or assumptions indicating bias/prejudice. If an employer stereotypes certain classes or claims they are unfit for employment, their speech likely reflects bias, and that bias may lead to discriminatory practices. Examples include claiming those of a protected class have a certain inferior trait or work ethic. An employer may also assume an employee can or can’t perform a task based on their protected class. They might expect a pregnant employee to not return to work after childbirth or that an older employee will retire at a certain age. In more extreme cases, this language is overt, including offensive jokes or verbal harassment.
  3. Lack of diversity in the workplace. If most employees in a workplace are of a certain class, it may indicate discriminatory hiring/employment practices—especially if the surrounding community is diverse. A workplace’s lack of diversity may also include an English-only rule. Forbidding an employee from speaking another language in the workplace is unlawful. In fact, an employer can only legally require fluency in English if effective and safe job performance requires it. Even if the employer hires a diverse range of applicants, the workplace may still lack diversity because of a high turn-over rate among minorities due to discriminatory treatment.
  4. Pay, promotions, or work assignments that don’t reflect the recipient’s qualifications. If a certain type of person is hired at a higher starting rate or consistently receives pay raises, recognition, and opportunities for growth, while other employees of different classes or groups better qualify, your employer may be operating under bias or prejudice. This is one of the more difficult forms of discrimination to prove for two main reasons:
    1. Upward mobility in a company is often based on subjective (and therefore less verifiable) qualifications, such as personality type.
    2. Discussing pay with your colleagues is often contractually forbidden (even though salary confidentiality is federally unlawful depending on the type of employment and state law).
  5. Unequal disciplinary actions upon employees of different classes. When an employee of one class is held to a certain policy or standard while an employee of another class is given a pass, the employer may be exercising discriminatory practices.
  6. Discipline, termination, harassment, or other forms of retaliation against protected activities. Under Title VII, employees are legally protected against retaliation when they engage in the following activities:
    1. filing (or serving as a witness in) a discrimination lawsuit
    2. participating in employer investigation of discrimination/harassment
    3. requesting an accommodation for a disability
    4. complaining about or resisting harassment

You may see only one of these signs or varying degrees of each. Your employer may discriminate against one specific class or against any class that isn’t their own. When unchecked, any form or degree of discrimination could end in catastrophic consequences for those who are unable to defend themselves. The first step is to identify the discrimination, and the second step is to act.

Get in Touch with an Attorney Who Can Help

If you or your colleagues are facing discrimination, you will need a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer on your side. At Hoosier Law Firm, PLLC, our attorney works every day to protect the rights of employees throughout West Virginia. We firmly believe that discrimination will only end when enough of us stand against it together.

Contact us at (800) 455-8721 for a free initial consultation. We are available 24 hours a day and every day of the year.