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When Workplace Policies Discriminate


Discrimination at work is a pervasive issue that goes much further than interpersonal interactions. Although most people readily imagine workplace discrimination as a statement or action someone takes, it’s not always happening at the “ground level,” so to speak.

Sometimes discrimination occurs at an institutional level in a company. This means that a company’s policies and practices are inherently discriminatory, and any enforcement of these policies can result in liability for the employer.

Defining Discrimination at Work

Workplace discrimination is any adverse, unfair, or different treatment that an employee receives as a result of their real or perceived association with a protected characteristic. If an employer makes a decision regarding an employee, with consideration of a protected characteristic taken into account, the employer risks liability for a discrimination lawsuit.

A few of the protected characteristics (or classes) California recognizes includes the following:

  • Race
  • Skin Color
  • Religion (including dress and grooming practices)
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Age (40 or older)
  • Gender Identity and Expression
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Marital Status
  • National Origin
  • Ancestry
  • Disability
  • Genetic Information

An employer can’t discriminate against any employee or group of employees when taking protected characteristics such as these into account.

Examples of Discriminatory Workplace Policies

Employers can expect a lot when it comes to how employees should present themselves and behave in the workplace. In most cases, employees can find these expectations outlined in their employee manuals, which they may have received upon hiring and may have been updated since their hiring.

Although employers enjoy a certain amount of control over their employees’ presentation and conduct, at no point should any policy or practice implicitly discriminate against any protected characteristic.

The following are examples of how policies at work can discriminate:

  • Banning hairstyles typically associated with a specific race or ethnic background, such as braids, locks, and twists (these hairstyles are protected under the CROWN Act).
  • Establishing bonuses for participation in an after-work Bible study group.
  • Denying time off for any religious holidays that aren’t also federal bank holidays.
  • Terminating employees when they become pregnant.
  • Mandatory retirement, with limited exceptions.
  • Denying advancement for employees with disabilities

The examples above demonstrate decisions that can go beyond the individual at a company. In other words, these examples – if they were implemented at a real company – could discriminate against a few, tens, hundreds, or even thousands of people at once.

Fighting Discriminatory Work Policies

If your employer has discriminatory policies that it actively enforces, you can hold them accountable with legal action. Discrimination at work is illegal whether it happens at an interpersonal or institutional level. With legal assistance from K2 Law Group, you can have the legal support necessary to file your claim and fight against workplace discrimination.

Learn more during a free consultation. Contact us today or call (800) 590-7674 now to get started.