Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms, and some of them are not always easy to identify or recognize. For instance, many parties within an office may believe that they are not discriminating if they treat everyone the exact same way, because they are treating each person “equally.” However, treating every person the exact same way can lead to its own form of discrimination, in which one party suffers because of equal treatment. This is known as disparate impact.

This can create many tensions in a workplace, so it is wise to examine potential problems closely to make sure that you do not allow a coworker or superior to discriminate against you, or to ensure that you do not discriminate against someone else. A clear understanding of the differences between disparate treatment discrimination and disparate impact discrimination can help you navigate these tricky issues.

Disparate treatment

Facing disparate treatment is difficult in the workplace, but at least it is often simple to document and point out to human resources. In broad strokes, disparate treatment discrimination means that an employer refuses to hire a person because of a discriminatory reason, may not compensate them properly or may give them unfavorable assignments for discriminatory reasons. This behavior has fallen under scrutiny in recent years, so most employers pay attention to avoiding this kind of behavior, but not all.

If you believe that you experience disparate treatment discrimination, carefully document these experiences and review them through the eyes of the law to understand the legal tools you have to push back against them.

Disparate impact

Sometimes, protected classes of people experience equal treatment more negatively than others. For instance, a person who does not eat pork for religious reasons may suffer from an employer’s policy that everyone in the office must eat the same pepperoni pizza during a meeting.

While there are limits to what an employee can expect from an employer when it comes to accommodating personal beliefs, it is still important to understand that “equal treatment” does not serve all people equally.

Protecting your rights

If you have grounds to believe that your employer discriminates against you, you owe it to yourself and to other workers to protect your rights and dignity with the law. By fighting for fair treatment, you pave the way for others to work safely and with dignity in years to come.