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Discrimination And Social Exclusion In The Workplace

If everyone were an attractive, averagely tall, heterosexual, athletic white male with a neutral religion and with no physical or mental disabilities, then discrimination would not be a concern. Unfortunately, this is obviously not the case. Workplace discrimination in the United States is not only morally wrong as well as in most cases illegal, but it can ruin the lives of the individuals affected by it through creating a hostile working environment as well as possibly costing them their jobs. Due to affirmative action policies, a new middle class has been created that consists of formerly discriminated people in some countries, but in others (including the United States), people from discriminated groups are frequently involved in the worst jobs, denied benefits, capital land, social protection, and training or credit. Discrimination in the workplace can form a web of poverty, and social exclusion. In the United States, discrimination in the workplace remains a tenacious and unyielding national dilemma with new forms emerging day by day that torment groups of people affected by it because of the countless forms of discrimination and the flouting of laws put in place to protect the discriminated, all resulting in the abounding repercussions of discrimination. A few of the bountiful cases and forms of workplace discrimination reside solely in the employment process.

No one can deny that workplace discrimination still exists, and that there are more than just a few forms continuously emerging. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that 93,277 workplace discrimination charges were filed with the federal agency nationwide. Monetary relief obtained for victims totaled over $376 million, and the most frequently filed charges with the EEOC in 2009 were the product of race, retaliation, and sex based discrimination. Also, the number of charges alleging age based discrimination reached the second highest level ever, and this year contained more resolved charges than ever before alleging unlawful harassment (EEOC, “Job Bias Charges Approach record high…" Para. 1-5). Luckily, the majority of Americans believe this is an issue that requires resolving, but the people encouraging and enforcing discrimination in the workplace are the reason why there are so many forms of workplace discrimination plaguing the lives of those affected by it. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, these abundant and evolving forms include discrimination on the basis of the following: race or color, ethnicity, gender, pregnancy,  religion or creed, political affiliation, language abilities, citizenship, disability or medical condition, age, sexual orientation, marital status, military veteran status, and military discharge status or anticipated military deployment. Also stated by the EEOC, every one of these forms could be displayed in any stage or section of the employment process including hiring and firing, compensation, assignment, classification of employees, transfer, promotion, layoff, recall, recruitment, testing, use of company facilities, training, apprenticeship programs, fringe benefits, pay, retirement plans, and disability leave. These include basing personal biases on granting breaks, approving leave, assigning work stations, or setting any other term or condition of employment, however small it is considered (EEOC, “Prohibited Employment Policies…" Para. 14). The forms of workplace discrimination are abundant and flourishing, and anyone in America can be affected by it. A factor that the majority of Americans often unintentionally disregard, however, is the issue of unintentional discrimination.

Unintentional discrimination, often termed as “statistical discrimination" occurs when the neutral selection practices produce a substantial disparity of outcomes between one group and another. Prime examples of practices that frequently result in unintentional discrimination are standardized tests (which often disadvantage minority applicants), and height requirements (which may disadvantage woman and some ethnic groups) in the hiring process. In some cases, law forbids statistical discrimination in each type of case. If the use of a procedure results in substantially different outcomes between employees, a statistical discrimination issue may exist, however, if the requirements are job-related and a business necessity, the disparity becomes irrelevant. Some laws prohibit unintentional as well as intentional discrimination, but different standards are held for what is acceptable in every state (Pager 50). Over all, unintentional discrimination is usually still discrimination, and it holds the potential to have the same traumatic outcome as other forms of discrimination. Acting upon biases through harassment, however, is even more unforgiveable than merely discrimination alone, intentional or unintentional.

            A serious type of workplace discrimination (which in a few of its bountiful forms has been around longer than workplace discrimination itself) is workplace harassment. Many people are not aware of this, but according to the Federal Communications Commission, workplace harassment is a form of discrimination. Unwelcome verbal or physical conduct toward any formerly discriminated person or group constitutes harassment when the conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment, or when a supervisor’s harassing conduct results in a tangible change in an employee’s employment status or benefits (for example, demotion, termination, failure to promote, etc.) (FCC Para. 2). Hostile work environment harassment occurs when unwelcome comments or conduct geared towards a discriminated person or group creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. The victim of such harassment can be anyone affected by the conduct and not just the individual at whom the offensive conduct is directed (FCC Para. 3-4). Actions that could possibly result in a hostile environment, but are not sexual in nature, include use of racially derogatory words or phrases, comments about an individual’s skin color or other racial/ethnic characteristics, negative comments about an employee’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof), expressing negative stereotypes regarding an employee’s birthplace or ancestry, negative comments regarding an employee’s age (only when referring to an employee forty years of age or older), and derogatory or intimidating references to an employee’s mental or physical impairment. Simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious, however, are not considered harassment (FCC Para. 2, 4-5, 7). Even so, the forms of harassment in the workplace that are currently being utilized throughout the country are completely unforgivable and deplorable, and they need to come to a halt before more Americans are overcome by it, especially in the form of sexual harassment.

Sex discrimination is by far the most prevalent, and women make up the largest discriminate group. In legal terms, sexual harassment is coined as an unwelcome sexual advance or conduct on the job that creates a hostile or offensive working environment (Petrocelli 2). That is a shorthand version of the definition used by the federal government and most states, but it is not necessary to couch the problem in legalisms. Simply put, sexual harassment is any offensive conduct related to an employee’s gender that a reasonable woman or man should not have to endure. Anyone can perpetrate sexual harassment in the workplace, man or woman, superior or subordinate, employee or non-employee. As an addition, there is a huge difference between saying “You look great!" And “Wow! What a figure!" Actions that may create a hostile environment based on sexual harassment include leering, making offensive remarks about looks, clothing, or body parts, touching in a way that may make an employee feel uncomfortable (including patting, pinching, or intentional brushing against another’s body), telling sexual or lewd jokes, hanging sexual posters, making sexual gestures, and sending, forwarding or soliciting sexually suggestive letters, notes, emails, or images (FCC Para. 2). In a study of 10,648 women working for the federal government in 1988, 42% said they had been harassed. Of those instances, 35% involved unwanted sexual remarks, 28% involved leers and suggestive looks, 26% involved being touched, 15% involved being persuaded for dates, 9% involved being persuaded for sexual favors, and .8% involved rape or sexual assault. The majority of these cases are the fault of co-workers or supervisors (Petrocelli 26). This study did not give an example of how any of the above victims sought legal remedies to their situation, but in research with 832 working women, Dr. Barbara Gutek, a Psychologist at the University of Arizona Business school, found that nearly half of the woman surveyed said they had been sexually harassed, not one of them said they sought legal help, and only 22% of the woman that stated they were sexually harassed said they had told anyone else about the harassment. This specific study demonstrates the lack of justice for all of these discriminated individuals (Petrocelli 12). Since 1980, 75% of the sex discrimination claims filed with the EEOC (more than 35,000 complaints) have been based on charges of sexual harassment alone. As a result of sexual harassment charges resolved by the EEOC in 1992, 1340 people won $12.7 million; in 1993, 1,546 complaints won $25.2 million in monetary benefits from their employers, including back pay, remedial relief, damages, promotions, and reinstatements (Petrocelli 30). Nothing can fix what has happened in the past, but luckily, the end result for those who acquire the courage to stand up for themselves as well as for the rest of the population of sexually harassed individuals can be rewarded greatly because of what they have suffered. It is also very fortunate that there are a multitude of laws put in place to protect discriminated individuals.

The law makes it illegal for an employer to make any employment decision because of a person’s race, sex, pregnancy state, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. That means an employer may not discriminate, for example, when granting breaks, approving leave, assigning work stations, or setting any other term or condition of employment, however small. A multitude of official laws have been put in place within the last fifty years by the United States government to prohibit, and hopefully retard the growth of Job discrimination. First, Title VII of the “Civil Rights Act of 1964" (Title VII) prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Second, “The Equal Pay Act of 1963" (EPA) ensures that men and woman earn equal wages based on equal work. Third, “The Age discrimination in Employment Act of 1967" (ADEA) protects individuals who are forty years old or older against workplace discrimination. Fourth, Title I and Title V of the “Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990" (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities (which include diseases such as cancer). Fifth, Sections 501 and 505 of the “Rehabilitation Act of 1973" prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals who work in the federal government. Sixth, Title II of the “Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008" (GINA) prohibits employment discrimination based on genetic information. And seventh, “The Civil Rights Act of 1991" provides monetary damages in case of discrimination (EEOC, “Federal Laws Prohibiting…" Para. 1) Under Title VII, the ADA, GINA, and the ADEA and others, it has been made illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment. Discrimination practices under these laws also include: harassment on the basis of any kind of discrimination, retaliation against an individual for filing a charge against discrimination, employment decisions based on stereotypes, myths, or assumptions about an individual’s genetic information, and denying employment opportunities to a person because of marriage or association with an individual of a particular group. (EEOC, “Federal Laws Prohibiting…" Para. 4-6). America should be grateful for what these laws have done (or at the very least, tried have done) for our country. Even with these laws, discrimination is still rampant, and it affects those stricken by it with a force like no other.

Workplace discrimination affects the individuals that experience it first hand to an extent that only those that encounter it can fathom. According to the International Labour Office,

“When the workplace brings together people with different characteristics and treats them fairly, it helps to combat stereotypes as a whole. It forces a situation where prejudices can be diffused and rendered obsolete. A socially inclusive world of work helps to prevent and to redress social fragmentation, racial and ethnic conflict and gender inequalities." (ILO, “Time for Equality at Work…" 36).

The International Labour Office believes that outlawing discrimination at work has failed to eliminate the practice. Still, the report concludes that laws banning discrimination are an indispensable, but insufficient step. Discrimination often traps people in low paid, “informal" economy jobs. The discriminated are often stuck in the worst jobs, and denied benefits, social protection, training, capital, or land credit. Workplace discrimination is a common cause of the nation's skyrocketing unemployment rate. If a company does not hire women, then the female applicant does not get the job. The same reasoning applies to all of the aforementioned categories affected by workplace discrimination. These individuals are without job opportunities and therefore unemployed. The discriminated party is usually smart enough to know why he wasn't hired. This instills anger and hurt in him. How he releases these feelings may result in violence. His self-esteem is shattered and he unleashes his negativity on those around him. As another negative effect of workplace discrimination on individuals, an employee subject to workplace discrimination is apt to lose interest in his duties and in the company. For example: He's of a different race than his peers, who make subtle inappropriate jokes about his culture. He tells his supervisor, who waves it off, stating, "Oh, that's nothing." This sends his morale into a downward spiral, which results in lack of productivity. Workplace discrimination can also have harsh effects on the psyche. When hopelessness sets in, he feels unworthy, like a failure. He thinks it's all his fault. His drive to succeed is elusive and he gives up on life. This deteriorating stage can lead to severe depression. In most countries, including the United States, the “glass ceiling" is ever present for everyone discriminated in the workplace discrimination does not, however, only negatively affect the individuals it is aimed towards, but also the workplace in which the discrimination resides.

Everyone gains from eliminating workplace discrimination. This includes the individuals, enterprises, and society as a whole. Fairness and justice at the workplace boost the self-esteem and morale of workers. A motivated and productive workforce enhances the productivity and competitiveness of businesses. Discrimination in the workplace, however, negatively affects businesses and discriminatory policies can hurt a company’s reputation. Discrimination in the workplace negatively affects businesses in that discriminatory policies can hurt a company's reputation. A business self-limits itself when it restricts advancement to certain groups or types of employees. Speaking negatively about a former employee can be damaging for a potential client. There is also a direct correlation between loyalty, retention, and discrimination. Employees are more likely to be looking for new jobs when they feel they have been wronged. Sending wrong signals to potential clients can also cause conflict because customers can sense when employees aren't enthusiastic or don't believe in their company. For this reason, it is important for a job applicant to observe the attitudes of people they wish to work with. Sending positive signals to employees attracts future potential employees (Pager, 25, 30-32, 34). A business self-limits itself when it restricts advancement towards certain groups or types of employees.

Many people are proud of their ideas, ideals, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and nationality. Who has the right to punish an Islamic Moroccan or a black lesbian based on their race, religion, or sexual orientation? Eliminating discrimination is indispensable to any viable strategy for poverty reduction and sustainable economic development. Discrimination in the workplace prevails as a national crisis. The flourishing forms of discrimination, the affronting of law, and the substantial consequences of workplace discrimination are all decisively deplorable. Eliminating discrimination is indispensable to any viable strategy for poverty reduction and sustainable economic and social development.

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