Discrimination 101

Recently there have been a number of significant decisions regarding discrimination in the workplace highlighting the fact that preventing discrimination is a responsibility of every employer. Employers who fail to meet this challenge by failing to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination can be held directly responsible for discrimination or vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.

What constitutes discrimination has varied by court or even by judge; however, the law is clear that employers should ensure that they do not discriminate (or allow their employees to discriminate) on the basis of the following:

  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Political affiliation
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy
  • Gender/Gender identity/Gender orientation
  • Creed

This is not an exhaustive list depending on your jurisdiction (federal, state, municipal etc.) but it covers most of the basics.

For example, in a recent case, a major rail network was held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees who had sexually harassed a female manager. The manager was subjected to having graffiti of a “particularly graphic and highly offensive nature” written about her in the men’s bathroom at work. In a further incident, a pornographic magazine was pushed under the door of her office. The female manager successfully obtained a large monetary award as a token of the employer’s failures.

Employers will be held accountable for failing to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment in their workplace and to address complaint of discrimination and harassment quickly and confidentially. Some of the steps that employers should take to prevent harassment and discrimination are:

  • Having comprehensive anti-discrimination policies that are committed to by all workplace stakeholders (owners, operators, managers, directors, employees and contractors)
  • Having a grievance resolution procedure that is clear and concise
  • Providing information to your employee of where they can go to get assistance outside of your workplace
  • Training all employees on what is discrimination and harassment, and what behaviors are prohibited
  • Ensuring all managers are trained on how to appropriately investigate and handle complaints
  • Making discrimination and harassment a feature of discussion at staff meetings
  • Displaying posters and notices that clearly state that harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated