The protected class employee alleges discrimination based on his ethnicity (or age, religion, etc.) to the Director of Human Resources. The HR department meets with management and advises the supervisor to be cautious to not create a perception of retaliation, and to further route issues through the HR department for proper guidance. Sound familiar? This scenario is not uncommon. By taking precautionary steps to avoid further problems, what can sometimes transpire next may be more damaging than anticipated.
A manager can sometimes become paralyzed in holding an employee responsible for his or her behavior when such an allegation of discrimination is made. The manager may become so concerned with being perceived as retaliatory that he permits a perception of entitlement with the alleging employee. When other employees become aware of favoritism toward a complaining employee, the perception can be just as damaging as the initial allegation, or in some cases even more damaging.
A perception of favoritism, reverse discrimination, and unequal treatment can fester, resulting in a discredited manager, dislike for the alleging employee (as co-workers may have no knowledge of a prior claim), and animosity amongst the team.
For example, a manager in a reputable and well known organization is a victim to such a circumstance. This manager was cautioned that an employee filed a discrimination case based on allegations that he was treated unfairly because he was Middle Eastern. The manager was made aware of the situation and even thought the investigatory results were unfounded. The recommendation was to be particularly careful to treat the employee fairly in all circumstances. The manager has permitted the employee to move vacation days, take additional days off, rollover vacation balances, and take priority in overtime opportunities. Because of the manager’s favoritism toward the employee, the employee’s co-workers now dislike both the manager and the employee, and have filed numerous complaints of unfair treatment because the only the Middle Eastern employee has been permitted to have these luxuries which are forbidden and denied when others request the same.
Given current events and the need to ensure equal treatment and no perception of retaliatory actions, it is understandable that the manager is behaving cautiously. However, the end result is that the other employees now have valid grounds for allegations of favoritism and the manager should be counseled on his choices as it pertains to equal treatment to all employees. Management and human resource staff carefully observe how employees are treated on a regular basis. As humans, it is simple to overcompensate in an attempt to make an employee feel comfortable, and while the attempt is commendable, it has little value when it ostracizes other employees and creates dis-harmony on the team.
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