Doing your job can be challenging enough. When you’re worried that you’re not receiving the same treatment as your co-workers, that stress gets compounded.
You may have a manager that plays favorites, or you may have been passed over for promotion multiple times. Knowing how to handle unfair treatment starts with identifying discrimination and understanding the right way to begin addressing it.
Document every incidence of unfair treatment, including emails, notes of conversations, or descriptions of specific incidents. Then, take your proof to the company HR department.
But when does a concern give cause for legal action? If you’re wondering how to handle unfair treatment at work, you’re not alone. Should you speak to a manager? Talk to Human Resources? Write a letter?
It’s important to remember that you have rights protected under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you aren’t sure what your legal recourse is, one of our experienced lawyers specializing in employment and discrimination can help to clarify your options.
At Morgan & Morgan, we care about defending workers’ rights and preventing discrimination in the workplace. Our talented team of attorneys can help you construct your case and protect your interests.
Feel like you’ve been treated unfairly at work? Fill out the easy-to-use contact form on our site today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our experienced attorneys.
What Does Unfair Treatment at Work Look Like?
It’s essential to understand the difference between what the law considers unfair treatment at work and what you do. A co-worker who leaves you out for a lunch meet-up isn’t necessarily participating in unfair treatment. However, a co-worker harassing you over lunch because of your gender or race would be.
The EEOC defines several classes of people that are illegal to discriminate against. These protected classes include:
- Sexual orientation
Singling out someone who is in a protected class is illegal. In the workplace, this kind of behavior can lead to consequences and fines. The person responsible for the harassment can face charges or disciplinary action from the company.
The company itself may also run into legal problems if they knowingly allowed the harassment to occur or created a company culture that encouraged workers to discriminate against others in a protected class.
Hostile Work Environments
Ongoing harassment and discrimination create a hostile work environment, making it difficult or impossible for an employee to perform their job duties. A company's leaders are responsible for ensuring that all workers, from entry-level to top management, follow the guidelines of the EEOC.
Companies are required to address and correct unfair treatment of employees and to ensure that all workers are aware of things that might constitute discrimination at work.
A hostile work environment doesn’t just come from making specific comments about someone’s protected class. Instead, it includes any type of preferential treatment or bullying that makes an employee unable to perform their job duties.
A few examples of unfair treatment at work are:
- Posting offensive comments about an employee on social media
- Spreading rumors about a coworker
- Passing someone over for a promotion because they're a member of a protected class
- Demoting an employee without proper disciplinary process
- Firing or laying off older workers to hire younger workers for a cheaper rate
- A pattern of paying women less money than men for the same work
These aren’t the only ways in which people experience a hostile work environment. Unprofessional behavior, office gossip, or repeatedly asking a fellow employee on a date can also create hostile work environments.
How Should I Handle Unfair Treatment at Work?
The most difficult element of addressing unfair treatment at work is proving that it happened. If you’re being harassed or missing out on opportunities that others with similar skills and experience have received, you’ll want to document everything. This includes emails or social media messages you might have received.
You should also gather documentation that supports a belief that you’ve been denied a promotion, even though you meet all of the qualifying criteria for the role, especially if it has happened more than once.
As you gather documentation, you may want to speak with a lawyer with experience handling workplace discrimination cases. At Morgan & Morgan, our experienced legal professionals can give you valuable guidance on the types of documentation you may need to support your claim.
Should I Talk to HR About Unfair Treatment in the Workplace?
Your company's human resources department ensures that the company follows EEOC guidelines and works to prevent discrimination in the workplace. This might lead you to believe that HR is on your side to serve as your friend and protector. This isn’t always the case. HR is there first and foremost to protect the company that employs them.
Protecting the company may mean taking steps to end workplace discrimination and harassment. However, protecting the company may mean that they make the problem go away.
Every year, people have been demoted or terminated because they made accusations of unfair treatment in the workplace. Is this illegal? Yes. Does it happen anyway? Yes.
The first step to protecting yourself from unfair treatment at work is to speak with an attorney. The right workplace discrimination lawyer can guide you through the regulations in your state and help you present a professional complaint to your HR department.
If you plan to stay in your job, a knowledgeable employment lawyer will help you through the complaint process and give you advice about how to handle each interaction.
Your lawyer also serves as a voice of reason during your harassment claim. Harassment, bullying, and unfair treatment hurts! People may say unkind things to you. You might observe hurtful comments on social media.
In these situations, it’s hard not to want to respond. Your lawyer can help you remain professional and present your claims in an unemotional, unbiased manner.
With that being said, your first step to ending workplace harassment is to report the unfair treatment if you plan on staying in the role. Registering the complaint gives the company an opportunity to fix the problem.
Your manager and HR department may be unaware there's a problem in the first place. Reporting formalizes the complaint, and it also places you in a “whistleblower” category, which protects you from retaliation.
Filing a formal complaint gets the actions on record. Your company can’t fire you or demote you in retaliation for your complaint.
How to Handle Unfair Treatment at Work: Dos and Don’ts
Still have questions about how to handle unfair treatment at work? Here are a few tips from our experienced employment attorneys.
Do Report the Claim to HR
Remember, it’s their job to deal with the complaint. A formal complaint about discrimination, harassment, or unfair treatment can help to protect you under the law, especially if you plan to keep your job instead of quitting.
Don’t Talk About the Situation on Social Media
Anything you say to defend yourself against people can be used against you if the complaint goes to mediation or court.
It’s natural to want people to know the truth, but statements can be misinterpreted. Your words could come back to haunt you in the future.
In some cases, if you've already filed a claim with the HR department, there could be a company policy that prohibits you from talking about a formal complaint on social media, as well. Don’t compromise your case by talking out of turn.
Do Follow Your Company Rules to the Letter
While having whistleblower status protects you from being fired or demoted because you filed a complaint, it doesn't protect you from regular disciplinary actions.
Being late or failing to call in an absence for a scheduled shift can still get you into trouble, as can other violations of company policy. Your employer can still write you up for these kinds of infractions. They can even opt to terminate your employment.
Don’t Neglect Your Health or Well-Being
Workplace harassment can leave you feeling insecure, depressed, or anxious. Make sure to practice self-care during this time. Speak to a counselor, visit a support group if you wish, or surround yourself with supportive friends and family.
Your attorney is on your side, too. When you work with the experienced team at Morgan & Morgan, you can relax knowing that your attorney is doing everything they can to fight for your rights in the workplace.
Do Contact the Authorities if You Think Your Harassment May Have Been Criminal
Your lawyer can tell you for sure, but if you've been sexually or physically assaulted, it’s essential to contact the police right away. A police report provides significant and serious documentation for your case. If you believe that you might need a restraining order for your safety, talk to your attorney, who can help you to file the appropriate paperwork.
Do Document Everything
Emails, conversations, voicemails, social media posts – anything related to you being harassed, intimidated, or discriminated against will be part of your case. Submit your records to your attorney, who will advise you what you should share with the company and HR department.