Work Culture

How does HR handle discrimination against employees in the workplace?

By on April 18, 2017

Human Resource Management is primarily concerned with recruitment: One of the most incorrect and damaging beliefs, if not the most. Uber found this out the hard way only recently. Ex-employee Susan Fowler’s post about her alleged experiences at Uber has made everyone sit up and take notice of the need to have more stringent policies against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. After all, when a company is valued at $69 Billion, it is expected to have a more robust HR department capable of handling all functions efficiently.

Surprisingly, this problem is more common in Silicon Valley tech startups and unicorns than the general perception. With a significant emphasis on growth, HR departments are forced to focus more on aggressive recruitment. Their efficiency is measured by the number of personnel hired within a specific period. More efforts should be taken to train and develop these recruits or set compliances and regulations for the work environment.

If there are any complaints, be it about sexual harassment, or unfair treatment due to racism, sexism, or favoritism, the HR department should take the proper measures to solve these problems. In some cases, the accused are in senior positions and have a proven track record of achieving success. At such times HR hesitates to act against them or is simply unable to due to a lack of policies against inappropriate behavior in the workplace. They either try to push the dirt under the carpet or pressure the victim into withdrawing their complaint instead of acting against the accused. No matter how senior the accused is, the same rules and regulations should apply to everyone.

The problem with startups here is that even after growing beyond a particular stage, they fail or choose to avoid setting up proper policies and procedures. When a startup surpasses 100 employees, it needs an HR department to take care of learning and development, risk mitigation, compensation, performance management, and grievance handling apart from recruitment. In the initial stages, there is lesser dependence on these functions, but later, they are essential.

Startups are typically known to focus more on creating an innovative work culture based on which they can attract and retain top talent. Although open seating arrangements with bean bags, free lunches, or gym facilities do more than just define work culture. It goes beyond that. Work culture gives the company identity and determines how employees interact with each other in the workspace.

Different types of Discrimination:

When building a happy, productive, and inclusive workplace, it’s crucial to understand the many facets of Discrimination. But how does HR handle Discrimination? 

Let’s look at the types of Discrimination and the strategies that Human Resources can use to tackle them.

Types of Discrimination

1. Systemic Discrimination

Systemic Discrimination involves policies, practices, or procedures that create unfair disadvantages for certain groups. It’s like an invisible barrier built into the workplace system, often unintentional but still harmful. For instance, a company might have hiring practices that unconsciously favor one demographic over another.

How does HR handle it?

HR departments need to evaluate company policies to ensure equal employment opportunities continually. This means adopting Anti-Discrimination Policies, ensuring legal compliance, and training managers to avoid biases.

2. Cultural Discrimination

Cultural Discrimination is when individuals are treated differently based on their culture or ethnic background. It can include negative stereotypes, microaggressions, or verbal harassment based on a colleague’s customs, traditions, or way of life.

How does HR handle it?

HR should promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Creating awareness programs and celebrating cultural diversity can be effective. Training and education on cultural sensitivity are also crucial to help employees understand and respect each other’s cultural backgrounds.

3. Linguistic Discrimination

This Discrimination occurs when people are judged or marginalized by language, dialect, or accent. It can appear in various ways, such as mocking someone’s accent or favoring individuals speaking a particular language.

How does HR handle it?

Human Resources can develop policies encouraging linguistic diversity and equal opportunities regardless of language. They can also provide language training and support for non-native speakers to feel more included.

4. Hierarchical Discrimination

Hierarchical Discrimination refers to unequal treatment based on an individual’s position within the organization. This might involve executives receiving preferential treatment over lower-ranking employees or vice versa.

How does HR handle it?

HR departments should ensure that company policies apply equally to all hierarchy levels. This can include creating clear complaint procedures and protection for employees who report Discrimination, regardless of their position in the company.

5. Intersectional Discrimination

Intersectional Discrimination is when someone faces Discrimination based on multiple aspects of their identity. For example, a person could be discriminated against for being both a woman and a person of color.

How does HR handle it?

HR needs to recognize the complexity of intersectional Discrimination. Anti-discrimination policies should address the compound effects of various biases. Moreover, training programs should educate employees on intersectionality and its impact.

Handling Discrimination is essential to HR’s creating a fair and inclusive work environment. HR can play a crucial role in combating workplace discrimination by understanding different types of Discrimination and implementing policies and training that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. In a nutshell, HR can prevent or deal with Discrimination through knowledge, awareness, and proactive policies.

How to Report Discrimination Claims to HR?

After understanding the different types of Discrimination, it’s important to know how to act if you or someone you know is facing Discrimination at work. Reporting discrimination claims to HR is crucial in ensuring that the workplace remains fair and inclusive for all. Here are the steps on how to make this process effective:

1. Document the incidents:

Before approaching HR, make sure you have documented the incidents of Discrimination. Take note of what happened, when and where it took place, and if there were any witnesses. Keep any evidence, such as emails or messages, that support your claim.

2. Review company policies:

Familiarize yourself with the company’s Anti-Discrimination Policies and complaint procedures. This will give you an understanding of the process and what to expect when you report the Discrimination.

3. Contact HR:

Reach out to the Human Resources department to report the incident. This can be done via email, phone, or in person. It’s often recommended to start with written communication. This serves as a record of your report.

4. Be clear and concise:

When reporting the Discrimination, be clear and concise about the facts. Stick to the information you have documented and avoid making assumptions or giving opinions. Clearly state that you’re reporting an incident of Discrimination and provide the details.

5. Request confidentiality:

It’s important to request that your complaint remains confidential to protect your privacy and prevent possible retaliation. However, keep in mind that HR may need to disclose certain information to conduct a thorough investigation.

6. Cooperate with the investigation:

HR will typically investigate once you’ve made the report. Be cooperative and provide any additional information they might need. Be available for follow-up meetings or discussions.

7. Keep records post-report:

After reporting, keep records of any further incidents or any communication regarding your complaint. This can be crucial if you need to escalate the issue or seek legal advice.

8. Seek legal advice if necessary:

If you feel the issue isn’t being addressed adequately, can’t be escalated further, or face retaliation for making the complaint, you should seek legal advice. Understanding your rights under employment law can be beneficial in such cases.

9. Follow-up:

Don’t hesitate to follow up with HR to inquire about the status of the investigation if you have yet to hear back within a reasonable time frame.

Remember that reporting Discrimination is not just about protecting yourself. It’s also about contributing to a workplace culture free from Discrimination and harassment. Being informed and taking the proper steps when reporting to HR can create a more inclusive and respectful work environment.

How HR Can Protect Employees Against Harassment and Discrimination?

Ways in which HR can protect employees against harassment and discrimination

Protecting employees against harassment and Discrimination is a multi-layered task. It requires a swift response to incidents and proactive measures to create an inclusive and respectful culture.

HR must take preventive measures and protective actions to shield employees from harassment and Discrimination. Here are essential steps HR can implement:  

1. Investigate complaints promptly

When an employee reports Discrimination or harassment, HR must act swiftly. A timely investigation shows employees that the company takes these matters seriously. This promptness can also prevent the situation from escalating.

2. Provide support for affected individuals

Supporting the affected individuals is key to addressing Discrimination and harassment. HR should ensure that employees who report incidents feel safe and supported. This can include offering to counsel them, making sure they know their rights, or even providing temporary work adjustments if needed.

3. Create a culture of respect and inclusion

How does HR handle Discrimination at its roots? By encouraging a culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. Creating channels for open communication and cultivating respect among employees can significantly reduce the occurrence of Discrimination and harassment.

4. Recruitment policy

HR should ensure that recruitment policies are fair and free from biases. This includes having diverse hiring panels and utilizing inclusive job descriptions. Equal employment opportunity should be at the forefront of the recruitment process.

5. Eradicate Discrimination

HR should actively work towards eliminating Discrimination by implementing and enforcing Anti-Discrimination Policies. This includes dealing with incidents as they arise and analyzing trends and data to identify systemic issues.

6. Providing a clear path for advancement

Ensuring equal opportunities for advancement is an essential aspect of fighting Discrimination. HR should create transparent criteria for promotions and raises and ensure that all employees know the opportunities available to them.

7. Training and development

Regular training and education are essential tools in dealing with Discrimination and harassment. Training should cover legal compliance and topics such as cultural competency, microaggressions, verbal harassment, and bystander intervention.

8. Regularly review and update policies

As societal norms and legal requirements change, HR must regularly review and update company policies. This ensures they align with best practices for preventing and handling Discrimination and harassment.

HR plays an instrumental role in protecting employees against harassment and Discrimination. This is done by investigating complaints, supporting affected individuals, and implementing policies and training focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through these strategies, HR can build a workplace where all employees thrive, free from Discrimination and harassment.

HR Discrimination Complaint Process

Examining the HR Discrimination Complaint Process is a key component in understanding how HR handles Discrimination. This process is crucial in ensuring that complaints are handled efficiently and fairly. It typically involves evaluating documents, locating potential interviewees, and conducting interviews.

Evaluating the documents

The first step is for HR to evaluate the documents submitted by the affected individual. This involves reviewing the written complaint and any supporting evidence, such as emails, text messages, or other documentation that supports the claim. Evaluating these documents helps HR understand the nature and scope of the alleged Discrimination. It’s important that HR also considers the company’s Anti-Discrimination Policies and ensures legal compliance during this stage.

Locating potential interviewees

Next, HR needs to identify and locate individuals who can provide further information on the complaint. This usually includes the person who made the complaint, the respondent, and any potential witnesses. During this stage, HR should be discreet and respect the individuals’ confidentiality to minimize the potential impact on the workplace environment.

Conducting Interviews

Once potential interviewees are identified, HR will proceed to conduct interviews. These interviews are essential in gathering information and understanding different perspectives on the alleged Discrimination.

  • Interview with the complainant: The first interview is generally with the person who complained. HR should create a safe and respectful environment for this discussion, encouraging the complainant to speak openly. Questions should be open-ended, allowing for detailed responses. It’s also important to ask the affected individual how they believe the situation should be resolved.
  • Interview with the respondent: HR should interview the individual identified as the respondent in the complaint. It’s crucial to approach this interview without bias, explaining the nature of the complaint and allowing them to respond.
  • Interview with witnesses: If there are any witnesses, HR should interview them to gather additional information. Witnesses often provide valuable insights and help verify the details provided by the complainant and the respondent.

Throughout the interview process, HR should ensure that the questions are consistent and geared toward understanding the situation. They should also remind interviewees of the company’s non-retaliation policy to ensure they feel safe providing information.

The HR Discrimination Complaint Process is critical to how HR handles Discrimination. This process must be handled with care, respect, and impartiality to ensure fairness and compliance with equal employment opportunity principles and anti-discrimination policies. Ultimately, the goal is to foster a workplace environment free of Discrimination and harassment, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion for all employees.


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