Discrimination or prejudice happens everywhere, even in the workplace. You or someone you know may have fallen victim to this without realising it. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself about what it is, how it can affect you and what steps to take should you encounter it. Here are the answers to some common workplace discrimination questions.

What is it?

Discrimination in the workplace is experiencing prejudice and/or being treated unfairly based on race, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, HIV status, political opinions, colour or religion. Although these are not the only reasons employees can be discriminated against, they’re the most common ones.

The difference between prejudice and discrimination

Prejudice is unjustified or incorrect attitude, which is usually negative and hostile towards an individual based only on the individual’s membership or involvement to a particular social group. Whereas discrimination is the behaviour or actions which are also negative, hostile or even aggressive towards an individual or group of people, especially on the basis of sex/race/social class, etc. So, one can be prejudiced without discriminating, since discrimination requires action.

Fair and Unfair discrimination

Fair discrimination is usually based on affirmative action which aims to promote equality. This is where companies will intentionally choose to hire members of certain groups, mainly those that were previously discriminated against, such as black people, women and people living with disabilities, over others.

Unfair discrimination is when employees are directly treated unfairly and with bias and prejudice based on sex, HIV status, race, political opinions etc. Such discrimination is not governed or protected by law, and stems from a place of ignorance, rather than empowerment (as with fair discrimination).

How to deal with unfair discrimination in the workplace

If you’re an employee and you feel that you’ve been treated unfairly and have been discriminated against, you’re advised to write a formal complaint and lodge a grievance with your employer or with the Human Resource department in your company. If six months after you’ve lodged your complaint there’s been no resolve, your grievance can then be referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, also known as the CCMA by either you, your HR department or your employer- the CCMA then has 30 days to try and resolve your issue. If that doesn’t help solve the issue, you’re allowed to take the matter further to the Labour Court to resolve the dispute.

We spend so much time at work, so it’s important that you work in a healthy environment where you’re treated fairly. We’ll be discussing a little bit more about discrimination on our social media platforms so look out for that and be part of the conversation Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you’d like to report discrimination you’re dealing with at work, here are contact details you can use, or you can contact the CCMA directly.

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