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What you need to know about workplace discrimination

If you are experiencing any type of discrimination at work, you may be wondering whether you should take formal action against such behavior. There are many different types of discrimination, and it is important for you to understand whether the behavior you are experiencing at work falls into an area the law protects.

Oftentimes, employees are not aware of their rights in the workplace or how to properly exercise those rights. The following information will help you better understand what qualifies as discrimination that the law prohibits and the steps you can take if you suspect you are a victim of workplace discrimination.

Protected class and workplace discrimination

A "protected class" is the legal term used to define the groups of people whom the law protects from discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) program says that every U.S. citizen is a member of some protected class, but that EEO law aims to protect people who traditionally face discrimination, such as women and minorities.

The groups that fall under protected class status include those that share common characteristics such as race, national origin, mental or physical disabilities, or age. In terms of age, the protected class is the group of people over 40 because they may face discrimination based on their older age.

Understanding what qualifies as discrimination

Discrimination is a behavior that the law addresses in specific terms. That means you do not necessarily have the grounds to file a lawsuit for workplace discrimination unless the behavior you are experiencing meets certain qualifying factors under the law. For example, if you consider your employer a bad boss but you cannot document any specific incidences of discrimination, you will not be able to pursue legal action. However, if you have documented evidence that your employer purposely screens out equally qualified minority candidates to hire non-minority candidates, this could be the basis for bringing a case of discrimination. 

Speaking to your company's human resources department is not always the wisest first step because the employees in that department may work to protect those who are participating in discriminatory behavior. The best way to determine whether the behavior you are experiencing at work is discriminatory under the law is to speak with a legal professional who can advise you about the next steps to take. 

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