The Gray Area of Workplace Discrimination​

woman frustrated over laptop and notebook

The Gray Area of Workplace Discrimination

By Sidney Gold, Sidney L. Gold and Associates, P.C

Sometimes discrimination in the workplace is obvious. When someone is ridiculed for their sexual preference, for example, it may be obvious because of things that are said. If a responsible, hard-working person loses their job for no apparent reason, it may because of age discrimination. However, there are other types of discrimination in the workplace that are not as easy to pinpoint.

There are laws in place to protect people against discrimination in the workplace. Employers cannot legally contribute or tolerate a hostile work environment, treat classes of employees differently, or retaliate against whistleblowers. However, sometimes there is a gray area of discrimination that is harder to identify and prove.

The glass ceiling is a barrier within a corporate hierarchy that prevents women and minorities from reaching upper-level positions. This can occur in the workplace in a variety of different ways. For example, in male-dominated fields, women often find themselves hitting the glass ceiling. Female workers in these industries may feel pressured to participate in male-dominated activities after work. If they do not gain the same favor with supervisors as their male counterparts while playing golf, engaging in happy hours, or otherwise fraternizing in certain gatherings, they may not receive the same recognition or opportunities.

Although the example above does represent a type of discrimination, it can be a hard thing to defend. The courts only offer remedies for discrimination that directly and adversely affect the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, such as compensation, job position changes, benefits, chances for job training and apprenticeship, and hiring and firing. Building relationships represent a very fine line and do not qualify as an offense. There are exceptions, however. These include:

  • When certain practices functionally replace terms, conditions, and privileges of employment, such as when an employer exclusively pays for amenities for a favored worker
  • When certain practices lead to more obvious discrimination, such as when a promotion is announced during an off-duty gathering
  • When there is a pattern of exclusion that is obvious enough that it creates a hostile work environment

Copyright Sidney L. Gold and Associates, P.C. 

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