How to Handle Overt Discrimination in Business

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As a small business owner, your success largely depends on how well you and your employees work together and care for one another. Discrimination within your organization can quickly sabotage your vision and hard work, especially if it is not dealt with swiftly and appropriately. While you have a lot of responsibilities vying for your attention each and every day, ensuring a safe work environment tops the list and can help ensure longevity for your business and an enjoyable workplace for all.

What Is Overt Discrimination?

Overt discrimination in the workplace is anything done to treat employees unfairly on the basis of characteristics such as age, gender, sexual orientation, race, disability or ethnicity. While covert discrimination is more subtle and sneaky, overt discrimination is easy to spot and can include things like:

  • Refusing to hire someone due to sexual orientation

  • Vandalizing property or threatening those of another race or ethnicity

  • Excluding qualified candidates over or under a certain age

  • Only offering raises and promotions to men

  • Firing a woman because she is pregnant

  • Refusing reasonable accommodation to an employee with a psychiatric disability service animal 

Document the Discrimination

When covert discrimination in the workplace is noticed, it is important to document each incident and collect evidence pertaining to it. Write down the day, time, location, situation, parties involved and any other pertinent information.

When allowed by local laws, consider obtaining cell phone or security camera videos of incidents. Be aware of local reporting laws and transparently share all evidence of discrimination with local law enforcement personnel when appropriate.

Encourage Internal Discrimination Reporting

Foster trusting relationships with your employees and ensure that company policies align with anti-discrimination laws. Provide clear steps for handling overt discrimination should it occur.

For instance, when your employees know that you have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to discrimination and that you value employee safety, they are more likely to come to you with incidents and concerns. This gives you the opportunity to partner with impacted employees to nip discrimination in the bud before it becomes an unfortunate accepted part of your work culture.

Report the Discrimination Externally

Because there are many laws in place that protect people from overt discrimination both in and out of the workplace, these cases sometimes require external reporting. Be aware that if you do not promptly address discrimination, your employees may report it to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and they may also take further legal action.

So, ensure that discrimination cases are at the top of your priority list and that you err on the side of overreporting to authorities rather than underreporting. If you are the one guilty of discrimination, educate yourself on the laws, seek legal counsel and diversity education, commit to change and outline a plan for change with your employees.

Seek Legal Counsel

It can be heartbreaking to learn that overt discrimination has been occurring within your small business, especially if you thought you were providing equal opportunity and an empowering workplace. Attorneys specializing in civil rights cases can examine discrimination cases or help you navigate the waters of policy correction as well as craft a proactive strategy moving forward.

Sometimes, businesses need additional checks and balances and different hiring processes as well as increased transparency and accountability in order to prevent further abuse and discrimination.

Provide Diversity Education

Overt discrimination can undermine a business's reputation, create safety issues and negatively impact the health of employees, but workplace diversity education courses can help. Sometimes, knowledge about how to build relationships with co-workers from other cultures, religions or ethnicities can go a long way toward creating a workplace environment of love and tolerance, where discrimination is less likely to occur or be accepted.