You do not have to be buddies with your boss, but the law requires employers to treat employees fairly. Not everything that inconveniences an employee is a violation of the employee’s rights; some jobs are difficult by nature, and some bosses are harder to get along with than others. When work supervisors antagonize employees because of personal characteristics of the employee, however, this is discrimination. Some employment discrimination cases involve the employer systematically treating employees who share a certain personal characteristic (such as employees of a certain race or family status) worse than employees who do not share this characteristic. Other employment discrimination cases involve coworkers targeting one employee and then the harassment escalating every time the targeted employee complains about it.
Employment discrimination can take many forms, so just because the problems you are experiencing at work do not seem much like the employment discrimination incidents you have read about in the news or seen dramatized in fictional stories, it does not necessarily mean that they do not fit the legal definition of employment discrimination. The Spokane employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you pursue an employment discrimination complaint if doing so is appropriate to your situation.
What are Some Examples of Protected Characteristics?
The difference between employment discrimination claims and other types of disputes between employers and employees is that the mistreatment in an employment discrimination case is always related to a protected characteristic of the employee. Protected characteristics can relate to the employee’s physical appearance, personal history, or family background. For example, some protected characteristics include race, country of origin, age, sex, religion, military status, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, and disability.
For example, a plaintiff in an employment discrimination case may claim that her employer discriminated against her because she is a married woman. She might claim that her work supervisor often made comments about the plaintiff’s domestic responsibilities and about how she would probably quit her job to be a stay-at-home mother if she got pregnant. If the employer denied the plaintiff’s applications for promotions, she might be able to claim that this constituted discrimination if the promotions for which she applied always went to men or unmarried women.
What are Some Examples of Employment Discrimination?
You cannot prove employment discrimination simply by arguing that people in your workplace do not like you because of a protected characteristic; the law does not require coworkers to like each other or to have a positive attitude toward each other. Instead, it is only employment discrimination if the employer takes one or more adverse actions against the employee. The following are some common examples of adverse actions in employment discrimination cases:
- Wrongful termination of employment – Your protected characteristic may have been a factor in your employer’s decision to fire you or not to renew your employment contract.
- Employers do not usually decide one day, out of the blue, to fire an employee because of the employee’s race, sexual orientation, or some other protected characteristic. The wrongful termination often happens after the employee complains about other discriminatory behaviors he or she has experienced. You can still claim wrongful termination of employment even if you were hired on an at-will basis. Employers are not allowed to fire employees because of a protected characteristic, whether or not the employee has an employment contract.
- Hostile work environment- This type of discrimination occurs when one or more coworkers repeatedly harass you about a protected characteristic. The harassment can take the form of offensive jokes, insulting comments, or even the sharing of audiovisual content that treats your protected characteristic with derision and disrespect.
- Involuntary transfer of duties, schedule, or work location – This occurs when your employer demotes you or otherwise changes your schedule, job description, or work site when you did not request such a change.
Discrimination and Workplace Dress Codes
An employer’s adverse action against an employee (such as demotion or termination of employment) is only wrongful and unjustified if the employee has not done anything wrong. Employers are within their rights to take adverse actions against employees for misconduct, poor job performance, or violation of company policies. Workplace policies on dress and grooming have been an issue in several discrimination lawsuits in the state of Washington. For example, Washington has recently enacted a law that forbids employers from penalizing employees of African descent for wearing their hair in protective hairstyles such as braids or locs. Likewise, employers must allow employees to wear certain hairstyles or clothing at work when they are doing so because of a religious obligation. For example, employers cannot forbid Muslim women to wear headscarves at work, even if, ordinarily, employees would not be allowed to wear head coverings.
Filing a Discrimination Complaint
If you experience discrimination at work, you should document every discriminatory incident. If your organization has a human resources office that handles discrimination complaints and similar issues, you should start by talking to the human resources office. You may eventually decide that filing an employment discrimination lawsuit is the best option. Before you can sue your employer for discrimination, an investigation through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a necessary preliminary step. Based on your initial meetings with an EEOC counselor, the EEOC will conduct an investigation into your allegations of discrimination at your workplace. After the investigation, the EEOC may authorize you to file a lawsuit. Filing an employment discrimination lawsuit is not a quick process by any stretch of the imagination, but the deadline for contacting the EEOC; you must contact them no more than 45 days after the most recent incident of discrimination you have experienced. It is never too soon to contact an employment discrimination lawyer, even before your first communication with the EEOC.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP. About Employment Discrimination Claims
The Spokane employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, can help you if you have experienced unfair treatment at work because of your age, race, religion, or another protected characteristic. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Spokane, Washington, to set up a consultation.