Identifying Workplace Discrimination

As a member of the Washington workforce, you are protected from discrimination due to several federal and state laws. Your employer and coworkers cannot discriminate against or harass you on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, health, religion, or pregnancy state.

Despite these laws, you may find yourself the subject of workplace discrimination. Sometimes, the discrimination can be subtle or hard to prove. If you are considering hiring a personal injury attorney to help you receive reparations for discrimination you faced but aren’t sure if your treatment qualifies as discrimination, read on to learn how to identify discriminatory practices.

1. Harassment

Harassment is problematic because it contributes to a hostile work environment. You may feel unsafe and your productivity may suffer. It’s also a violation of Washington state law, which defines “malicious harassment” as a punishable offense.

Either sexual or non-sexual harassment can be considered discrimination. Examples of harassment include any action or statement that makes you feel threatened or like you aren’t safe in the workplace. This can include derogatory statements made by a coworker about someone of your race or inappropriate sexual advances, including unwanted touching.

Many companies have a section about harassment in the employee code of conduct, but sometimes infractions can slip under the radar. If you feel like your coworkers or employers have made threatening comments towards you because of your sex, race, religion, or any other protected class, talk to a lawyer about what action you can take.

2. Employee Inequality

Perhaps you were hired at the same time as several other individuals. In the years you have worked at the company, everyone who was hired at the same time as you has received significant promotions, except you. This situation is disheartening, but does it count as discrimination?

If each employee performs the same amount of work for the company in the same length of time, unequal compensation is discrimination. This is particularly true if everyone else who received the promotion or pay raise belonged to a different gender, race, or age group than you. If this is a case, it can reveal a pattern of discrimination in your company that should be discussed with a lawyer.

3. Lack of Disability Accommodations

Employers are required to make the workplace accessible for all of their employees, regardless of their ability level. Your disability also can’t be the reason the company fires you, promotes you, or refuses to promote you.

For your part, you should let your employer know if you have any specific needs. Perhaps you need a different schedule that makes it easier to get your work done or a specialized desk that allows you to be more comfortable and productive.

You should also let your employer know what they can do to increase your mobility around the building. They may need to install wheelchair ramps, provide alternatives to stairs if the building has multiple stories, or offer increased access to sunlight.

If you make these requests and your employer refuses to accommodate your needs, you have a discrimination case. Not being able to do your work at the level you’re capable of or even get around the building can negatively impact your work performance. Keep a record of the requests you made and the answer you receive to use in your discrimination case.

4. Pregnancy Leave

In Washington, female employees who give birth are entitled to at least six weeks of pregnancy leave (eight if they gave birth via C-section) according to the Washington State Law Against Discrimination. If the company they work for has more than 50 employees, the new mother can take an additional 12 weeks, as mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Washington State Family Leave Act.

Employers are not required to pay you when you take maternity leave, but they also cannot discriminate against you for taking your governmentmandated time off. Your job must be waiting for you when you return, and you can’t suffer any loss of benefits or status.

These rights extend beyond mothers giving birth, however. Fathers are also entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, as are mothers who are adopting or who otherwise need maternity leave without giving birth.

If your employer lowered your pay, took away your insurance, or otherwise discriminated against you after returning from family leave, they have infringed upon your rights and can be held liable in a court of law.

5. Termination

Because Washington is an at-will work state, you can voluntarily leave the company whenever you want for whatever reason. However, this also means that your employer can terminate your employment for any reason. The exception to this rule is if your employer fired you because of any protected characteristic (for example, they fired you because you’re from another country, even though you’re an American citizen now).

Your employer also can’t fire you or punish you if you make a complaint to human resources. It’s your right to discuss grievances through the proper channels, and if you feel like your company only fired you because you had a complaint, they’re breaking the law.

If you believe you were fired illegally, you have the right to request a written statement indicating the reasons for your termination. Send a formal letter to your old company, keeping a copy of the letter in your records as evidence. Your company then has 10 days to respond.

If the reason for your termination seems untrue or if the company doesn’t respond, bring this information to your lawyer.

At the law offices of Rob Kornfeld, we’re happy to work with you to address issues of discrimination in the workplace and help you receive the compensation you need.

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