How to avoid discrimination and harassment in your workplace or business

When we hear words like discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, it may seem like they’re all one and the same.

But actually, discrimination is a broad term that’s not interchangeable with harassment. And discrimination and harassment aren’t interchangeable with retaliation, either. 

To discriminate against someone = to treat a person differently or less favorably for some reason, anywhere. It doesn’t have to just be at work. 

You can be discriminated against by anyone – friends, family, professors, colleagues, etc.

And one of the biggest mistakes people when it comes to handling a discrimination or harassment complaint is that they don’t take responsibility. The second biggest mistake is that they unwittingly retaliate against the person.

It’s never OK for people to discriminate or harass others – it’s not the victim’s fault.

But we do have responsibilities when it comes to who we work with, where we work, why we chose that organization or client, what we do with information we receive that’s unsavory.

For instance, it could be the way we respond or react to how they treat us the FIRST time it’s misaligned, and why we do or don’t stand up for ourselves – when we finally DO decide to do something about it, it’s usually too late. 

How you’re going to resolve the issue depends on whether you’re an employee or a business owner. 

(Note: This is not legal advice, but it’s good to know that while employees are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency, 1099 independent contractors are generally not protected, unless there was a change in your status in which you’re paid like a contractor, but treated like an employee. Always consult an attorney if you need help.)

Flip the Golden Rule on its head – Treat people as YOU would want to be treated.

No matter whether you’re a business owner or an employee, here’s the one simple step you can take to set yourself up for success, and avoid discrimination and harassment: Know who you are, what you want, and why you want it. 

Then, based on that, set CLEAR expectations – whether that’s in your contract, your handbooks, etc. – to ensure that harassment, discrimination, and retaliation does not occur, let people know what the consequences of their behavior are, and to enforce the rules.

If you’re still not clear on the difference between discrimination and harassment or need more help understanding why it matters for you as an employee or business owner, consult with a lawyer on your Power Team. And, if you don’t have one, feel free to reach out. I’m happy to steer you toward resources.

Extra Credit

As you go about your day, think about these questions:

  1. What is the best way to resolve a discrimination, harassment and retaliation issue?
    1. Employees: Does the company you work for have a handbook? If so, it should outline the process for filing a complaint or resolving a dispute with any co-worker.
    2. Business owners: Do you have something in place on how to handle these issues with your employees? If you don’t already have this, get on it ASAP! If you hire independent contractors, have something in writing that says everyone is treated with respect no matter who they are to the company itself.
    3. Independent Contractors / Freelancers: Have you outlined in your contract what you will and will not put up with? Reserve your right to terminate the agreement if you experience something misaligned with your own personal and professional values.

Next Steps

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