In today’s society, discrimination is not limited to being a racial matter; there is a growing number of discrimination against women in the workplace. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 99,947 discrimination claims in 2011 which was a slight increase from the previous year where claims reached 99,922. These shocking numbers are at an all-time high since the department was created in 1965. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on a four significant areas of the claims for 2011. Of the 99,947 discrimination claims filed, retaliation (37,334), sex (28,534), pregnancy (5,797) and equal pay (919). Many of these claims are a result of job elimination, demotion, decrease of wages and/or elimination of benefits. Considering the current state of the economy and unemployment rate at 8.3%, some employees and applicants do not report such issues due to fears of future retaliation and tarnished work history.
There are many laws in place to prevent employees and potential applicants from being retaliated against, however, according to the statistics, a staggering amount of claims were filed last year. Retaliation claims are filed for a various reasons, in particular because a person filed a charge of discrimination, complained about the working environment, took part in another discrimination case or lawsuit. Sex discrimination claims involves treating someone different from their counterpart on based on their gender or their connection with a specific group or organization that is typically associated with individuals of a specific sex. This brings me to the 5,797 pregnancy discrimination claims and 919 equal pay claims which were filed in 2011. This may not seem like a large amount of claims, but it is significant all the same. Some of the pregnancy and equal pay claims coincide with one another due to women having decreased duties due to pregnancy and therefore unjustly reduced wages. Under each of these types of discrimination, the law “forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment” (EEOC 2012). If the law forbids any of this, why is it happening so frequently and increasing over a number of years? The main reasons are that discrimination in any form is very hard to prove and employers managed to find loop-holes that border violating the law, but do not actually cross the line.
Most employers have policies in place such as FMLA, sick leave, vacation time, unpaid leave of absence and comparable work. Under FMLA, the employer must have a certain number of employees in the firm in order for a person to qualify for it. Sick leave, vacation time and unpaid leave of absence may be used in place of FMLA; however, it may be up to the discretion of a department manager, human resources or the CEO to decide if this should be granted to the employee. There is also comparable work, which is a gray area. Comparable work is not clearly defined and generally means instead of facing job elimination, one could work in a number of areas comparable to that which was held previously. However, this do not mean returning to work from an illness, taking care of a relative or having a child, that the employee will receive the same salary prior to taking time off of work. A vast majority of jobs also have a strict policy of discussing salary and wages with co-workers. This also makes it difficult to prove that a female employee is receiving less than fair pay to a male employee. Setting aside education and experience, in my opinion, there is not a valid reason for a male and female employee to earn different salaries for the same positions.
I know from experience the difficulties of some of these issues and hope that many readers will never have to experience any type of discrimination. For those who have, you are not alone in the fight for equality. Although many things have changed over the years, women have made enormous strides and career advancements; there are still some aspects that must change in order for everyone to be on the same playing field.
There will be in-depth follow-up segments for each of the topics mentioned above.