When we think about how many hours we spend out of our day working, we are given a unique opportunity to affect the lives of others in a positive manner. For, it is in the workplace that we all come together, from different backgrounds, all diverse individuals, assembling for a common purpose.
In this way, we need to develop ample tools to forge relationships and then determine ways, when met with obstacles, to learn how to accept each other’s uniqueness.
Work needs to be accomplished, which is the primary reason we are there.
I remember hearing the phrase, “we are a melting pot” when I was in a high school history class. I now know what it means. We have the chance to meet people from diverse backgrounds, cultures and generations, all of which can enhance our world if we seize the opportunity.
What can present obstacles, however is viewing anyone different from us with fear and suspicion and walking away from a potential opportunity to forge a common bond. Alternatively, making matters worse, is responding to them in a discriminatory manner, sometimes perhaps unknowingly.
How do we define diversity, and how does it fit into the workplace? Most definitions of diversity attempt to break down the differences between individuals or groups of individuals, held together by a common factor. For example, diversity may represent factors such as race, age, gender, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, economic level, educational background and work experience.
Another definition of diversity may indicate the dimensions and values of the human qualities different people possess. The key words that stand out in any of the definitions you may find are "differences," "qualities" and "values." Developing an ability to see the positive side of what these words represent is crucial in order to understand what each of us, as a unique individual, may have to offer to one another.
Addressing diversity in the workplace is very important from several perspectives. From a corporate view, diverse personnel may contribute to a well-rounded company with limitless possibilities. From a personal view, embracing and understanding diversity in the workplace may lead to breaking down barriers that can inhibit personal growth, continued development and an overall enjoyable and fulfilling work and life experience.
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is the largest state civil rights agency in the country. It was established in 1959 as the Division of Fair Employment Practices and was initially part of the Department of Industrial Relations.
In 1980, DFEH was established as an independent department charged with enforcing California's comprehensive employment, housing, public accommodations and public service non-discrimination laws, as well as the State's bias-related hate violence law.
DFEH's statutory mandate is to protect the people of California from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations pursuant to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, Government Code section 12900, et seq., the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Civil Code section 51, et seq., and the Ralph Civil Rights Act, Civil Code section 51.7.
The Fair Employment Housing Act law provides protection from harassment or discrimination in employment because of:
· Age (40 and over)
· Religious Creed
· Denial of Family and Medical Care Leave
· Disability (mental and physical) including HIV and AIDS
· Marital Status
· Medical Condition (cancer and genetic characteristics)
· National Origin
· Sexual Orientation
According to to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC), Discriminatory practices include:
· Harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age;
· Retaliation against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation, or opposing discriminatory practices;
· Employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities, traits, or performance of individuals of a certain sex, race, age, religion, or ethnic group, or individuals with disabilities; and
· Denying employment opportunities to a person because of marriage to, or association with, an individual of a particular race, religion, national origin, or an individual with a disability. Title VII also prohibits discrimination because of participation in schools or places of worship associated with a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group.
What are the costs for not promoting a safe workplace?
The law provides for a variety of remedies, which may include:
· Back Pay
· Cease and Desist Orders
· Damages for Emotional Distress
· Reasonable Attorneys Fees and Costs
· Expert Witness Fees
· Administrative Fines and Court Ordered Punitive Damages
What measures can you take to ensure a safe and harassment free workplace? Become familiar with the following civil rights laws:
· Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991;
· The Age Discrimination in Employment Act;
· The Americans with Disabilities Act;
· The Equal Pay Act; and
· Other local, state and federal civil rights and anti-discrimination statutes.
Moreover, realize that employers are not permitted to:
· Fail to hire;
· Fail to promote or give a pay increase to;
· Verbally or physically harass;
· Segregate or assign; or
· Otherwise, differentiate a person because of his or her race, color, age, sex, pregnancy, ancestry, religion, disability, or national origin.
It should not be taken for granted that your employees will automatically embrace a diverse work environment. Diversity training is a wonderful tool for building communication, trust and confidence within your organization. Diversity awareness, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training are also
Jamie Charter, author, educator and consultant has been providing employment and litigation consulting services for 23 years through Charter and Company employer resource consultants in Soquel, California. Jamie, on the faculty of HRResource.com, has authored numerous published articles on employment related subjects.
Email: [email protected]