With the 21st century workplace ahead of us and a country full of diversity surrounding us, the changing ethnic, racial, age, and gender composition of the workforce will become more evident in the years to come. This modern workplace will bring in a group of diverse employees to accompany tighter labor markets and changing worker demographics. These changes in the modern workplace will have important implications for employers across the country. "High skills and knowledge are important to American firms competing in a global economy." (Dresser, 1996) As always, the best measure of an employee or potential employee is skills and knowledge. But we all know that it doesn't always work that way. And, while the U.S. workforce as a whole has a higher educational level than ever, some problems evolving in the modern workplace are clear; discrimination is part of the problem. All the greater knowledge and skills level the United States is welcoming is coming to employers in all new packages.
What is Discrimination?
There are many definitions for the term discrimination. But in general, discrimination involves treating someone differently because of a certain characteristic. Workplace discrimination involves treating someone differently in the workplace because he or she is different. Some kinds of discrimination are both legal and fair. For example, discriminating against employees with high unexcused absenteeism and tardiness is a way to run a good business and maintain good employees that are loyal. However, discrimination that violates civil rights is illegal. This type of discrimination might come in the form of dismissing an employee because of religious ties or because he or she has long hair. We will outline the various types of discrimination a little later.
According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2002), "Employment discrimination affects businesses in ways comparable to other workplace hazards." The effects of discrimination can be just as toxic as chemicals or just as hazardous as unsafe working conditions but often workplace discrimination goes unnoticed and uncontested. But when it is present, both employer and employee feel its unmistakable effects, and the destruction it causes tends to grow over time.
Types of Discrimination
There are several types of discrimination as outlined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). These include: Health and Safety-Related Discrimination, Race-Based Discrimination, Sex Discrimination, National Origin Discrimination, Religious Discrimination, Age Discrimination, and Disability Discrimination. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2002)
This Act under that law states that it's illegal for an employer
1. To fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin; or
2. To limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
In addition to those statutes, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act further states that it is unlawful to discriminate against someone based on their age. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2002)
This type of discrimination is usually what pops into people's minds when they hear about workplace discrimination, even in today's modern workplace. But Race-Based Discrimination extends even beyond a person's skin color, although that is the most obvious distinction characteristic of race. One more obscure example of this form of discrimination is the presence of facial hair due to an employee's skin condition, common to a specific race. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta is a case that illustrates this form of discrimination. In this case, several African-American employees of the City of Atlanta suffered from a skin condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae. They argued that the city's "no-beard" rule was in violation of Title VII. But the city's "business necessity" defense, and their insistence that the beard was a safety concern was enforced by the court. (Loden, 2001)
Sex discrimination is most common with women. Also called gender-based discrimination, this type of discrimination occurs when an employee is "excluded from a job classification due to sex-based stereotyping and a perception that the employee cannot perform certain types of manual labor without sustaining injury to themselves." (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2002) This type of discrimination often involves pregnant women. This was the case in International Union v. Johnson Controls, Inc. This company had a policy in place that barred all women, except those unable to bear children, from having jobs that exposed them to high lead levels. (Lodin, 2001) In the case, the courts ruled in favor of the female employees, "Title VII was found to bar the employer from excluding fertile females from jobs exposing fetuses to the risk of harm." (Equal Opportunity Commission, 2002)
National Origin Discrimination
National origin discrimination occurs when an employee is treated unfairly because of their country of origin or ancestry. If an employer refuses to hire an individual because he or she is from Afghanistan, this is a form of National Origin Discrimination. Although national origin related discrimination is sometimes confused with race discrimination, it's not the same thing.
In one case citing National Origin Discrimination, employees contended that they had a right to speak their language in the workplace. In this case, Priscilla Garcia et al. v. Spun Steak Co., the employer argued that it a right to direct which language was spoken in the workplace. This particular employer insisted that all its employees speak English while at work. This employer cited safety issues among other things, but said an English-only rule "would enhance worker safety because some employees who did not understand Spanish claimed that the use of Spanish distracted them while they were operating machinery." In this case, the courts ruled with the employer stating that there was not enough evidence to suggest discrimination. (Loden, 2001)
Employees can also be victims of workplace discrimination because of their religious beliefs. This type of discrimination often concerns disputes over some customs and holidays respective to a religion not celebrated in the United States. Under certain circumstances, employers are required to accommodate those religious beliefs. In a recent case arguing religious discrimination, an employee insisted he was discriminated against because he could not keep his beard. In Bhatia v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., the employer argued that his beard created safety concerns in a position which required him to wear a respirator. The employer's position was sustained. But clearly, this was a type of workplace discrimination that occurs all the time. (Loden, 2001)
As baby boomers and other generations of workers age, this type of discrimination will continue to be on the rise. The recent elimination of the Social Security offset and consequent re-entry of older workers into the workforce ensures this. Employees have to be at least 40 years old to qualify for federal age discrimination protection. Besides, sex discrimination, this is probably the most common form of discrimination in the workplace.
Disability Discrimination is another form of discrimination occurring in the workplace that is not as well-know as some of the other forms. Under the laws of the United States, employers are allowed to set certain qualifications concerning work performance and this has been proven in several cases. In Boyce v. Reynolds Metal Co., an employer chose to terminate an employee because he suffered from asthma and would be exposed to vapors. No job at the plant could be provided where contact with these vapors would not occur. The courts ruled in favor of the employer. (Loden, 2001)
We are a diverse country and it is this diversity that makes us a…