What are the two categories of workplace discrimination?

Discrimination is an ugly side of society that many collectively seek to address and extinguish. A workplace can oftentimes employ people from many walks of life, and while one might hope that this would quiet prejudicial thoughts, that’s not always the case.

While many perceive the workplace to be a civil location, countless stories have arisen of discrimination. Prime cases of workplace incivility tend to dominate headlines, where an indiscretion by a boss evokes gasps. However, some discrimination is harder to detect, and thus harder to prove. In a workplace there are two key categories for employee discrimination: disparate treatment and disparate impact.

What is disparate treatment?

Disparate treatment is very surface level discrimination. When the head chef of a kitchen drops the “n-word” in reference to an African American employee. When someone makes a crude reference referring to women. Every side of discrimination is ugly, but this side is loud and easily heard or seen. Though perpetrators might protest that they others “meant no harm,” their behavior is inexcusable.

What is disparate impact?

This side of discrimination has made a reputation for being “quiet.” The reason it’s known for not being overt is because it’s often in rule-books, and policy guidelines. These guidelines on the surface may seem simple and non-discriminatory but, in practice, specific targeted groups tend to not reach whatever goal or standard was set. Because the policy makers or business owners themselves may not have been aware of the discrimination present, their response to discrimination accusations might be indignant and defense. But just because no harm was intended, doesn’t mean no harm was yielded. Disparate impact can spring up as early as the screening process.

The difficult part…

While providing evidence of disparate treatment might prove to be easier, disparate impact can be more difficult. Disparate treatment can be evident in a single instance, but impact can require more proof to show causation.

Discrimination has a storied history, and unfortunately that history deals with unkind words and unkind treatment within the workplace. Progress is still pushing forward on this easy to spot but difficult to subdue subject area. Disparate treatment may rear its ugly head in many locations, but it is also important to look for disparate impact. If you feel as though you are facing discrimination in the workplace, contact a legal professional who can advocate you in this trying time.

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