I’ve been in retail for almost 10 years now and spent the majority of my time in management. I’ve worked in several different companies in at least 3 different states. And I say all that to say that I’ve had quite a bit of training in Human Resources and workplace discrimination policies. I guess I’ve always take my experience for granted and assumed that others would be as knowledgeable of their resources as I am. However, I often find that is not the case. So here’s a few basic tips on what to do if you think you’re being discriminated against in the workplace.
1. SAVE EVERYTHING
The first signs that things are going south usually start with write-ups/corrections/counseling or whatever term your company uses. Basically they’re starting to take steps towards termination. Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that every corrective counseling means you’re set for the boot. Perhaps you truly have some areas you could work on, and your employer or manager is just trying to get some better performance out of their colleagues. Don’t panic, but be aware.
And most importantly, save EVERYTHING they give you. Copies of schedules, write-ups, requests off, company guidelines and handbook. Most places are required to give their employees copies of all these items and you will need them if it goes to HR, mediation or court.
2. KEEP A JOURNAL
Factor in the tone and atmosphere of the office to see if there has been a shift in authorities attitude towards you. Write all of this down in a notebook, every little instance no matter how small it may seem. Again, this all matters and will benefit you in the end. This includes a change in your schedule (have your hours dropped? Did you switch from days to nights for no reason?). How about request’s off? (Are you suddenly finding all your requests denied even though you have the vacation or personal days to spend?). Is your boss making rude or sarcastic comments towards you? Are you suddenly being written up for issues that weren’t a problem in the past?
I have a friend who worked for a company for over 10 years. She was a good employee, but she had a bad habit of being late. And this was true in every area of her life, not just when it came to work. But because she was such a benefit to the company, they overlooked her tardiness. Now I’m not saying her lateness should have been excused, but I am saying the company and the manager had set a precedent. So when my friend came out as transgender to the company, it looked pretty suspicious that after 10+ years she was suddenly being written up for her tardiness.
But the write-ups didn’t start immediately. First she noticed a change in her supervisors attitude towards her. Then she overheard the staff making some inappropriate comments. Finally, she felt isolated and cut off from her work family. Then the write-ups began. I can’t say that a journal would have saved her as she did break company policy by continuing to be late. But I can tell you that evidence goes a long way.
3. FOLLOW THE RULES
I know. It feels like we’re forced to dot every i and cross every T just to avoid illegal termination. But the simple reality is, if your boss is looking for a reason to fire you, don’t give them one. I understand that my friend’s company set a precedence of ignoring her tardiness for over a decade. And that’s why she would have a legitimate case to bring to court, or at least to the HR department. However, at the end of the day, there’s still a handbook (which she probably signed) that boldly states tardiness is not permitted. If you have a weakness at work and you’re being targeted, focus on that weakness. In the long run it will do you a lot more good. But don’t stop there and simply tread water. Move to the next step.
4. UTILIZE YOUR HUMAN RESOURCE DEPARTMENT
I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to queer individuals who never reported their discrimination. There are federal laws in place that prohibit workplace LGBTQ discrimination. In addition, most states and most national and local companies also have these protections in place. YOU HAVE TO GO TO HR! The biggest fear people have about going to HR is retaliation from their team or supervisor. However, if you’re already being targeted then it’s too late to worry. You need to protect yourself and that means leaving a long paper trail. If you can prove you reported these issues then that’s more on your side for the future. Regardless of whether HR has your back or not, set yourself up to be legally protected.
Also, you may be very surprised to see that HR actually does care about your well-being. There is a reason companies develop and staff a human resource department. Now reporting may mean that some changes will occur. Perhaps you’ll be offered a transfer, or a position in another department. You are not required to take these offers. But maybe the change will be beneficial in the end. Or perhaps you’ll aid in the removal of an unhealthy supervisor.
If nothing comes from your report, again, request a copy. Keep it on file and continue to keep your journal. This is extra stress and worry, but in the end you are protecting yourself. Don’t let a company or a group of supervisors beat you into silence. If you are being unfairly treated, take steps to fight back. If all else fails, take this to a legal level.
5. REACH OUT FOR LEGAL AID
There are many companies out there that offer free legal aid for those who have been discriminated against at work. Utilize these resources. You are worthy of help and fair treatment. Don’t sulk away in fear and rejection. We are a resilient people! Dig deep for that strength inside of you and ask for help. Lamba Legal, GLAAD, the HRC, and more. Also, check out this link for the Huffington Post that lists a state-by-state directory of aid specifically for queer people of color.
There are so many ways we can stand up to workplace discrimination. You don’t have to take this lying down and you don’t have to face these attacks alone. If you’re still struggling or in need of advice, feel free to message us here or on social media @yourqueerstory. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always here to help.