Term Paper: Discrimination in the Workforce

Pages: 12 (3155 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sociology  ·  Buy This Paper

Discrimination in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Evaluation of Key Issues

Discrimination in employment is a problem that has affected thousands of organizations, large and small operating in today's global marketplace. Discrimination comes in many different forms. Discrimination in the workplace may be considered one of the most egregious acts in modern society, yet it occurs each and every day. Discrimination is not simply something that affects one minority population, but in fact affects many. It may come in the form of age Discrimination, gender discrimination, cultural or racial discrimination and even disability discrimination.

A woman can be discriminated because she is pregnant, a man can be discriminated against because he is older. Discrimination affects all people in some way, and has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in some way in the workplace.

There are many laws and act that have been enacted to protect individuals from discrimination. These laws affect human resource departments in a number of ways. The penalties for not adhering to these laws are many. The impact of discrimination, laws protecting people from it and the impacts it has on the human resources representatives of an organization will be discussed in greater detail below.

Discrimination

Before one can examine the laws that prevent discrimination one must understand what exactly discrimination is in the workforce. Discrimination can best be defined as any type of behavior, action, belief, value or attitude that impacts another individual in a negative manner, that is based on one's racial identity, gender, sex, disability status, age or some other personal factor (Mathis & Jackson, 2003). It can impact an individual or it can impact an entire group of people depending on the manner in which it is carried out in the workplace. It can impact someone directly or it can occur inadvertently. Either way it is a devastating and demeaning practice.

Discrimination can be the result of actions carried out by individuals within an organization, or it can be the result of an entire organizational culture and mindset. Discrimination is most common in organizations that are composed of people from many diverse backgrounds and belief systems. It is inevitable in a society that is more and more globally oriented that some form of discrimination will occur in the workplace.

Discrimination is often the result of stereotyping (Mathis & Jackson, 2003). Stereotyping is the practice of making assumptions or judgments of someone based in interpersonal impressions or conceptions of how one 'should' act or how one 'behaves' (Wyer, 1998). It is the practice of creating working assumptions or perceptions about a group of people based on certain aspects of their persona, beliefs, race, age, status or any number of similar factors.

There is a large body of evidence that suggest that people have a spontaneous reaction or tendency to categorize other people based on any number of factors (Wyer, 1998). Stereotyping and discrimination often fall hand in hand, as both reflect an individual's intergroup status and position within a particular context, such as the workplace (Wyer, 1998). Discriminatory or stereotypical beliefs can emerge from many different sources in the workplace and in society at large, including ideological systems, individual learning and "contextual contrasts" (Wyer, 1998: 54). Does stereotyping and discrimination serve a purpose? One may argue that they "establish justifications for group differences, and accentuate and clarify differences between groups in favor of groups" (Wyer, 1998: 54).

In a non-threatening context, it is not necessarily negative to differentiate between particularly groups. Many organizations and human resource departments have attempted to combat discrimination in fact by encouraging differentiation and understanding through diversity training programs (Haines & Hemphill, 1997). However these efforts often fail because they serve more to point out differences and give individuals the opportunity to separate themselves from the 'cultural norm' even more, creating chaos and confusion in the workplace.

Discrimination can have a number of deleterious effects on members of the workforce. It can result in low self-esteem, depression and serve as the number one de-motivating factor in the workplace (Haines & Hemphill, 1997). Because of this it is vital that human resource departments develop programs that effectively combat discrimination. Failure to do so not only violates the law, it violates the basic moral obligations organizations have to their employees, namely providing a safe workplace free from superficial judgmental behavior and discrimination.

Discrimination Laws

The government has long recognized that discrimination is a problem in the workplace. Because of this a number of laws have been enacted for the sole purpose of combating discrimination in the workplace. Despite these laws some discrimination does still exist in the workplace, however the levels of discrimination have subsided somewhat in recent years (Haines & Hemphill, 1997). The laws that have been created regarding discrimination attempt to tackle the problem from several different angles. Some of the laws are meant to be broad sweeping, preventing discrimination in the broadest sense, whereas others are very specific, prohibiting specific forms of discrimination against specific groups such as pregnant women.

There are many examples however of instances where discrimination occurred despite federal legislation prohibiting it.

In 1996 Texaco was charged and found guilty of discrimination; that same year the U.S. Army faced sexual harassment lawsuits from more than 5,000 women (Haines & Hemphill, 1997) these stories remind us that even in organizations with diversity training, discrimination may continue.

The most basic law that protects employees from discrimination on the job is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits job discrimination on the basis of race, skin color, age, gender, religious belief or national origin (Haines & Hemphill, 1997). When most people consider the laws that prevent discrimination this is often the first that comes to mind. It is the first major piece of legislation that was enacted protecting people from discrimination in the workplace.

The act also dictates that none of these factors may not be the basis for any type of "promotions, dismissals, pay raises, benefits, assignments or other forms of employment relationships" (Haines & Hemphill, 1997:13). A majority of organizations have adopted this law and embodied this philosophy on paper. It is necessary in fact for organizations to have policies that afford all employees equal opportunities in the workplace. Violation of this law results in harsh penalties, including fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The government has consistently worked to refine its anti-discrimination laws for the workplace. In 1992 the Civil Rights Act was expanded to state that an employer must show that a job practice that excludes a certain group is job-related or consistent with business necessity in order for it to be legal and not considered discriminatory (Haines & Hemphill, 1997). In certain situations it may be appropriate for an employer to discriminate. However the law has made it very difficult for an organization to do this without having solid evidence that a certain group must be excluded based on some organizational need.

An example may be the need to hire a male worker to work in a men's locker room during the day, when men will be present and possible indisposed. If the organization is an all men's gym that caters to men, it might make business sense to hire a janitor that is male to work in the locker room. This might be a case where an exception could be made to the rule. If that were the case however, a male would always have to be hired in this situation to help prove business necessity. The law does not allow for organizations to 'change their mind' or change their business practices when this exception to the rule applies.

The most common claims of discrimination in the workforce come in the form of race discrimination, sex, disability and national origin (Haines & Hemphill, 1997). This is because these elements of an individual's being are what differentiate them and create groups. Race and sex discrimination are often the two most common forms of discrimination reported in organizations by employees. Of these, sex discrimination is often considered the more common and more devastating. There have been numerous sexual harassment lawsuits in recent years by men and women alike in the workplace.

Sex discrimination is still considered a "blatant, subtle and covert" problem in the workforce primarily affecting women (Gregory, 2003). One form of sex discrimination in the workplace is in the form of sex stereotyping, which is considered a more overt form of discrimination (Gregory, 2003). Gender stereotypes may unfairly place men and women in different categories; they suggest that certain personal attributes are "necessary for higher level positions in the workplace" and suggest that other personality characteristics are incompatible with management (Gregory, 2003). Unfortunately these incompatible characteristics are often assigned to women or viewed as traits that females would have. Included among them is the notion that women are nurturing and more sensitive, and that men are more aggressive (Gregory, 2003).

The same laws that prevent discrimination in general also work to protect women and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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