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What does reverse discrimination in the workplace look like?

Awareness about discrimination in the workplace is ever increasing. Workers are speaking out more about the unfair treatment they receive based on a protected class, such as gender, race, religion or disability. Society tends to accept or understand these cases best when the discrimination is very blatant or involves a historically disadvantaged minority group.

However, what happens when the employee receiving unfair treatment is from the group that normally holds the advantage, such as someone who is white, male, Christian, straight, young or abled? Does this still count as discrimination in the workplace?

Definition of reverse discrimination

The answer, though often unpopular, is yes. The name for this scenario is reverse discrimination, because the typical roles are reversed. Some may argue that this situation is not relevant because the person is part of a class with more advantages and therefore experiences little harm. However, the point of anti-discrimination laws is to offer protection from prejudice to all workers, not just those who traditionally have needed it most.

Examples of reverse discrimination

In some cases, the discrimination is actually harassment in the form of offensive comments and behavior from colleagues and/or supervisors. Creating a hostile work environment is illegal no matter how advantaged a person may seem to be.

The other and more complex cases involve diversity programs. The purpose of affirmative action is to reduce an unfair playing field for minorities so they can have an equal chance of securing education and employment. However, the process cannot involve having a certain quota for one or more minority groups.

The protected class can be a factor in decisions such as hiring and promoting, but it cannot be the sole factor. For example, one employee may not get a position only because of gender, race or another trait, when he or she is not qualified, causing someone who better fits the job to lose out. The same applies to preferential treatment, employment perks and pay.

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