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What to do if you experience discrimination in the workplace

Discrimination in the workplace can manifest itself in many ways. Individuals can be harassed due to their race, sex, ethnicity, disability, age and other various classifications. Unfortunately, workplace discrimination is very common and if not confronted, can cause a great deal of physical, emotional and mental suffering.

If you think you are being discriminated against at work, there are steps you can take to get protection.

1. Refer to your employee handbook and state laws

In every employee handbook, there is a section dedicated solely on what to do if you face discrimination, and the rights you have as a citizen of the state. Hold on to that copy in your handbook as a point of reference.

2. Document the occurrence

Oftentimes, many victims of harassment and discrimination don't make it clear that they are being violated verbally, mentally or physically. The acts against you can go unrecognized or unpunished. If you have evidence of being harassed, log it in a journal with the date, estimated time, the person involved, and include any witnesses who saw the act of discrimination or harassment. If there was physical evidence involved, make sure to keep any of the objects. If you have the offensive item in your possession, it will help prove your case much easier than if you recall it from memory.

3. Talk to your employer

If you are dealing with discrimination in the workplace, often the next step is to approach your supervisor or boss. Sometimes, the victim of the harassment can feel ashamed or embarrassed by the acts of discrimination, and will even quit their job to avoid confrontation, but the best thing you can do, for yourself and for future employees, is to bring the matter to light. Take it seriously by asking for and submitting a written report describing in detail the incident(s) that occurred. By law, employers are required to take quick action on reports of discrimination and they cannot retaliate against you for reporting it.

Try to document all correspondence with your employer. The more you get in writing, the better your case will be if your employer refuses to act.

4. If you can't approach your supervisor, go to human resources.

Sometimes, it's your boss who is responsible for the harassment. Even if that's not the case, you may feel uncomfortable approaching them directly. If this happens, or if your boss doesn't seem to be taking your report of discrimination seriously, then you have the option of reaching out to the human resources department or to your supervisor's superior. Keep in mind that even your human resources department is on your employer's side. Their goal is to minimize any liability your employer faces. Tread lightly and only raise the facts.

If those avenues fail to produce an acceptable response, then you can go directly to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), who oversees many federal cases involving discrimination and harassment.

Before you take action, consider speaking with a lawyer

If the appropriate steps are not taken swiftly and documented carefully, it can be hard to obtain justice in a discrimination suit. Hiring an attorney experienced with workplace discrimination cases can ensure that the issue is resolved correctly, your rights are protected, and future employees are protected from the same treatment.

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