Every employee deserves to be treated fairly at work. This includes being treated with dignity, respect, and equality when it comes to promotions, pay raises, or other opportunities based on job performance.
The sad reality is that many hard-working employees are treated unfairly or unequally at work through no fault of their own. Below are some examples of unfair treatment we see time and time again:
- Retaliating against an employee for reporting or refusing to engage in conduct the employee believes is illegal.
- Discriminating against pregnant employees for taking pregnancy leave, including reducing their pay, demoting them, or terminating them.
- Refusing to accommodate disabled employees’ requests for medical leave.
- Sexually harassing an employee and then punishing them when they refuse to engage in sexual conduct.
- Terminating long-term older workers to replace them with cheaper, younger employees.
These are just a few examples of unfair treatment at work. Regardless of your particular situation, there are steps you can take to protect your rights.
Understand That You Are Not Alone
The first thing you must do is realize that you are not alone. Thousands of employees all around the country suffer from unfair treatment at work. This treatment often times has nothing to do with the employee, but is because of a supervisor or co-worker’s bias or prejudice towards a certain group of people -- for example, sexism, racism, or a prejudice towards older employees, to name a few.
Document The Unfair Treatment
Once you recognize that you are not alone, it is important to immediately document the unfair treatment. This can be done in a number of ways, including creating a journal, sending emails, text messages, or other types of communications that confirm the unfair treatment is happening. Ideally, this documentation is created as the unfair treatment is happening. This is what lawyers sometimes call “contemporaneous evidence,” which is evidence documenting something as it is happening. Lawyers love contemporaneous evidence; it's convincing.
Report The Unfair Treatment
Once you have collected evidence of the unfair treatment, it is time to report it. Normally, the report is made to the company’s Human Resources Department. If your company does not have a Human Resources Department, you can report the unfair treatment to anyone with authority over you -- for example, a supervisor, assistant manager, or manager.
When you make your report, there are a few rules to keep in mind.
- Keep it focused. Don't list every problem you've ever had with the company; focus on the illegal conduct. If you don't know which conduct to include, talk to a lawyer.
- No legal buzzwords. Don't use legal terminology you don't fully understand. For instance, people love to say they are experiencing a "hostile work environment." This is a legal term of art that describes illegal harassment and it's actually quite a heavy burden to prove. Instead, focus on the specific conduct that you believe created hostility. For instance, "My supervisor has commented multiple times that, since I got pregnant, I am lazy," or "My supervisor makes racially insensitive comments, such as [insert examples here]" are much more effective complaints than the (often wrong) legal conclusion that you are experiencing a "hostile work environment."
- Be constructive. Identify what you would like to see changed. Maybe you would like workplace sensitivity training or you believe you should be allowed to transfer so you do not have to report to someone who demeans you every day. Your complaint should offer constructive solutions so that you look like the reasonable one.
- Avoid threats. Employers hate to hear that you'll sue them or hire a lawyer. You might be surprised to learn that juries hate to hear it, too, and often think threats to hire a lawyer make it look like you are a "cooking up" a lawsuit, when all you are actually doing is trying to solve a problem at work. As in the rest of our lives, threats are not usually productive when trying to solve a workplace problem.
It is important to know that you cannot be retaliated against for reporting unfair treatment. If this happens, your employer may be liable for retaliation.
If you feel you can't talk to HR for whatever reason, you should talk to an employment lawyer about how best to preserve any claims you have. Certain types of claims require your employer to know about the misconduct in order to be liable. Maybe your employer knows because a manager is the one misbehaving, or because it's wide open for the world to see. Either way, this is a tricky situation and one where expert advice can be helpful.
Talk To An Experienced Employment Lawyer
The most important thing you can do in a situation where you feel like you are being mistreated is to speak with an experienced employment lawyer. Here at King & Siegel LLP, all of our compassionate attorneys are experienced with helping employees navigate unfair treatment at work. We provide free consultations and would be happy to speak with you.