“Am I being discriminated against at work?” This is one of our law firm’s most frequently-asked questions — and the answer is not always a clear cut “yes” or “no.”
Everyone should be aware that sexual harassment and physical violence at work are illegal. It is important to note that other practices can also be illegal. If you find yourself regularly coming home from work feeling bullied, undervalued, or even traumatized, these are often warning signs of a toxic work environment where discriminatory practices are in place. An employment rights attorney can gather more information about your experience to determine whether or not you may have a case against your employer.
Below are 10 common examples of discrimination in the workplace, ranging from subtle to obvious. Be on the lookout for these “warning signs” if you have seen or experienced wrongful behavior. This list does not cover all the possible examples of illegal practices. If you have any questions, you should contact an attorney for more information.
10 Signs You’re Being Discriminated Against at Work:
1. Questionable Hiring Practices
Employers can engage in predatory behavior at all stages of employment, which includes hiring and recruitment. Federal and state law in North Carolina and South Carolina recognize several protected classes, including women, minorities, LGBTQIA+ job candidates, and more.
Interview questions targeting a protected class are a major red flag. As a general guideline, you should not be expected to answer a prompt that feels off color, off topic, or deeply personal. Potentially discriminatory interview questions could include:
Asking a candidate if they have a spouse or children
Asking a Hispanic job candidate if English is their second language
Asking a job candidate about the origins of their last name
2. Lack of Diversity
A thriving modern workplace provides opportunities for people from all walks of life. Lack of diversity is easy to identify because, simply put, employees look the same. Job candidates should be skeptical of a workforce that is homogenous; for instance, a sales team consisting only of middle-age white men. Another warning sign of employment discrimination is hiring a “token” diverse employee, which could be a lone female or minority employee on an otherwise all-male sales team.
3. Fixed Job Roles
Companies who position themselves as an “Equal Opportunity Employer” may think they are compliant with the law if they have a diverse workforce. However, it is important to take a closer look at how diversity is positioned within the so-called corporate ladder.
4. Overlooked or Denied Promotions
Job promotions can be competitive. When a talented, hardworking employee is passed over for a promotion, it may (or may not) be a result of work discrimination. This scenario can involve discriminatory action if:
A promotion is given to a less qualified or less experienced candidate
Promotions are given to a hiring manager’s work friends (the “in crowd”)
You are consistently or repeatedly passed over for a promotion
The reasoning given to you for denying a promotion is questionable
You are told a reasonable promotion is contingent on doing unreasonable or impossible task(s)
5. Unequal Pay
Co-workers may not always feel comfortable having conversations about their salaries — and some workplaces attempt to forbid this practice entirely. If your company handbook attempts to limit or prohibit salary discussions with your peers, this could be a warning sign of unequal pay.
When two employees with similar training and experience are being paid differently for the same position, unequal pay can indicate a form of workplace discrimination. This is particularly concerning if the employees differ in race, age, sex, or another protected class.
6. Harmful Communication
All employees are expected to communicate professionally and to be treated with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, simple joking and teasing can give way to a toxic work environment.
Discriminatory behavior can include:
Inappropriate or offensive jokes
Bullying, as well as cyber bullying
Publicly disciplining an employee
Sexual harassment or comments on physical appearance
7. Negative Workload Increase
An employee’s workload can fluctuate unpredictably. This could be the result of business demands or increased responsibilities. If you are tasked with a new or important project to prepare for a promotion, this would be considered a positive increase. On the other hand, a negative increase occurs when an employee is expected to do an excessive or impossible amount of work for no apparent reason — especially if they are singled out for work which is not delegated to peers in the same job role.
8. Bogus Discipline or Retaliation
A negative increase of workload (see above) often goes hand in hand with bogus discipline. An employer may attempt to create a paper trail to justify terminating an employee, by disciplining them for failure to complete an unnecessary or impossible task.
Retaliating against an employee can also indicate illegal discrimination. This could include waging a demotion or pay reduction for no apparent reason, or providing poor performance reviews to an employee who knows they are doing a good job.
9. Isolated Employees
If you generally feel lonely and miserable at work, you may be a victim of work discrimination. Isolation or alienation can include:
Providing unequal mentorship or coaching opportunities
Assigning an employee to a desk or cubicle situated away from others, particularly if in an unsuitable environment (such as a supply closet)
Excluding one employee from team lunches or social events
Preventing an employee from participating in group projects
10. High Turnover
Even in a healthy workplace, it is necessary to release employees who are underperforming or unfit to continue in their current role. However, you should be skeptical of a workplace with high turnover. A “revolving door” can indicate improper hiring practices, poor training and questionable employer ethics.
Seek Help at the Law Office of Herrmann & Murphy
The definition of work discrimination can encompass many different scenarios. If you believe you may have experienced (or witnessed) illegal workplace behavior, contact the attorneys at Herrmann & Murphy in North Carolina and South Carolina. Our legal team has successfully resolved more than 250 employment rights and discrimination cases — and we will listen with compassion to help employees receive the justice they deserve.
There’s no need to feel hopeless if you noticed signs you are being discriminated against at work. Contact our law firm to schedule a confidential consultation. Submit an online form, call our North Carolina office in Charlotte at (704) 940-6399 or call our South Carolina office in Greenville at (864) 516-7526.