6. Equal Opportunity Service

6.1. Diversity is protected legally by Equal Employment Laws.

Diversity in the legal definition of equal opportunity programs in the United States includes people of different race, color, national origin, sex, and religion in Title VII. (6.1) Employees and customers of the programs should be provided equal treatment. 

     The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides more information about types of discrimination in the workplace and best practices for preventing it grouped into twelve types: Age, Disability, Equal Pay Compensation, Genetic Information, Harassment, National Origin, Pregnancy, Race/Color, Religion, Retaliation, Sex-Based Discrimination, and Sexual Harassment. (6.1) More information and links to each topic are included later in this section. Personal boundaries and what is considered harassment or discrimination in the legal sense will be discussed first.

    Sexual orientation and gender identity are protected by Title VII under the category of Sex-Based Discrimination, (6.2), (6.24). This topic will also be discussed in more detail in section 11: What is Gender Discrimination?.  

6.2: Personal Boundaries are learned in childhood & differ between cultures.

There's a line drawn in the sand of social behavior that isn't supposed to be crossed. But where is that line?

      People raised in different cultures or with different types of parents may have very different expectations regarding social interactions. Behavior that is considered normal in one setting might be viewed as very disrespectful in another setting or by a different group of people.   Healthy guidelines for behavior help protect what is valued without being overly defensive. 

  • Personal boundaries vary in different settings or roles. (6.3
  • Examples of personal boundaries in a variety of roles and settings are discussed in the book, Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day, by Anne Katherine, M.A.. (6.4) The book includes the suggestion to stick with a boundary once it has been stated without continually repeating explanations and reasons.   

The meaning of words can also vary between individuals and cultures. Dictionary definitions help set boundaries of meaning that can be referred to by any reader familiar with the language.

6.3: The EEOC definition of Harassment:

The U.S, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidance regarding legal definitions of harassment, and sexual harassment on their website, (6.1), and suggestions regarding what might it look like in the day to day business world: 

  

Excerpt on Harassment:

“Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. 

      Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.        

     Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.       

     Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.” EEOC/Harassment (6.5

6.4: The EEOC definition of Sexual Harassment:

The U.S, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidance regarding the legal definition of sexual harassment on their website, (6.1), and suggestions regarding what might it look like in the day to day business world: 

  

Excerpt on Sexual Harassment: 

“It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. 

     Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. 

     Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex. 

     Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). 

     The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.” EEOC/Sexual Harassment (6.6)

6.5: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

See the  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website for further information regarding the legal protection against Harassment and Sexual Harassment and for the rest of the twelve categories with legal protection against discrimination: Age, Disability, Equal Pay Compensation, Genetic Information, Harassment, National Origin, Pregnancy, Race/Color, Religion, Retaliation, Sex, and Sexual Harassment. (6.1

  1. Age:  It is unlawful to harass a person due to their age. The “Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)” makes discrimination against a person due to their age is unlawful for people over age 40 at the federal level. Discrimination by a person over age 40 against another person over age 40 may not be protected. Protections for people of younger age may exist at the state level in some areas. Read more about U.S. federal policy regarding Age Discrimination and Harassment:  (6.7)
  2. Disability: The “Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, or the Rehabilitation Act, as amended,” protects “a qualified individual with a disability” from being treated unfairly as an employee or as an applicant by an employer due to the individual’s disability. Harassment of an employee or applicant because of a significant physical or mental disability whether present or only suspected. Read more about U.S. federal policy regarding Disability Discrimination and Harassment and access a list of resources and Fact Sheets for a variety of topics related to working as a disabled person or employing individuals with disabilities: (6.8)
  3. Equal Pay Compensation: The Equal Pay Act requires employers to pay male and female workers equally for jobs that require basically the same type of work. Additional types of benefits and bonuses are also required to be equal and reducing the compensation of either men or women to make the compensation equal is not allowed - employers would be required to pay more or provide equal compensation to the group who had been found to have been unfairly provided with less pay or benefits. Title VII also protects against unequal pay due to gender. Read more about U.S. federal policy regarding Equal Pay and Compensation: (6.9)  
  4. Genetic Information: “Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) which prohibits genetic information discrimination in employment, took effect November 21, 2009.” Personal and family genetic information and medical history are included as sensitive information, and harassment based on genetic information or retaliation against someone for reporting discrimination or harassment are prohibited by the act. Confidentiality of genetic information is also protected by the act. Read more about U.S. federal policy regarding protection against Genetic Information: (6.10)
  5. Harassment:Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA)” prohibit harassment of employees “based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” An employer may be liable for the behavior of a supervisor or non-supervisory employee that results in job discrimination against another employee. Read more about U.S. federal policy regarding protection of employees against Harassment: (6.5)
  6. National Origin: Harassment or discrimination against an employee because of the country or region they are from, or that they may appear to be from due to their appearance or accent (whether they are of a different ethnicity or not), is prohibited. The “Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA)” prohibits against discrimination “based on an individual’s citizenship or immigration status” and prohibits requiring fees in order to be considered for work. The act is enforced by the OSC, “the Department of Justice's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), Civil Rights Division.”  Contact information is available for the OSC on the EEOC website and more information about U.S. federal policy regarding National Origin: (6.11
  7. Pregnancy: The “Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)” prohibits against any type of unfavorable job discrimination or harassment due to being pregnant or having a medical condition due to pregnancy or childbirth. A condition resulting from pregnancy that is disabling may also be protected by an amendment to the disability act, “the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.” The “Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)” supports the rights of workers to take time off work after the birth of their child without risking losing their right to return to their job. Specific time frames are involved and a temporary disability case may be opened. The “Fair Labor Standards Act” provides protection for lactating women. Read more about U.S. federal policy regarding the rights of lactating women and families with newborns and women during their Pregnancy: (6.12)
  8. Race/Color: Harassment or any type of job discrimination based on an individual’s race or apparent race or their skin color or complexion or that of a family member is prohibited. Employment policies that can not be shown to be directly related to the needs of the job and which may discriminate against a minority group may be prohibited. An example would be a policy against facial hair for males even though the job would not require it. Such a policy might discriminate against men of some ethnic or religious backgrounds so such a policy might also be prohibited as religious discrimination. Read more about U.S. federal policy regarding discrimination or harassment due to Race/Color: (6.13)
  9. Religion: Any type of job discrimination or harassment of an individual due to their religious or spiritual beliefs is prohibited. The person does not have to be a member of an organized religion in order for their spiritual beliefs to be protected. "Title VII" also protects against job segregation due to religion (excluding someone from a customer service position due to their choice of facial hair styles for example). Employees are also protected from being required to take part in religious activities by their employer in order to keep their job. Read more about U.S. federal policy regarding discrimination or harassment due to Religion: (6.14
  10. Retaliation: Within the federal sector retaliation is the most common reason employees file an alleged complaint of discrimination. Punishing a worker for asserting their right to not be discriminated against or sexually harassed would be prohibited for example. See the website for more examples. Direct job discrimination or harassment would be prohibited and indirect tactics used by management such as making overly negative evaluation reports for the employee’s personnel file in order to build a case to fire them. Read more about U.S. federal policy regarding protection against Retaliation: (6.15)
  11. Sex-Based Discrimination: Any type of job discrimination for an employee or applicant due to the person’s sex or their sexual or gender identity is prohibited under “Title VII.” Policies are required to be gender neutral unless it can be shown that a job requires a certain gender to complete the work. Read more about U.S. federal policy regarding Sex-Based Discrimination: (6.2
  12. Sexual Harassment: Harassment of an individual sexually is prohibited whether the harasser is a person of the same or opposite sex and whether the abuse was physical assault or verbal harassment or “requests for sexual favors.” How “frequent and severe” the mistreatment is or If the situation leads to the person being harassed losing their job or being demoted is considered when determining whether a situation is “simple teasing” or “harassment.” Read more about U.S. federal policy regarding protection of employees or job applicants from Sexual Harassment: (6.6)

6.6: Emotional abuse can leave physical damage in the brain.

An old childhood rhyme suggests that sticks and stones might hurt but that being called names doesn’t hurt. Common sense supports the idea, clearly being hit physically hurts, however research has found that emotional harm can also cause physical long lasting changes in the brain.     

     Emotional stress has been found to cause changes in the brain similar to changes seen after a history of serious physical or sexual abuse. (6.16) Bullying during childhood has been shown to cause permanent changes in the brain that can affect the child into adulthood.  Depression and reduced memory abilities into adulthood may result from the physical changes found in children who grew up with ongoing emotional or verbal abuse. (6.17)     

     Defining jokes as potentially being physical abuse might help encourage more compassionate workers to tone down their jokes to meet the EEOC definition of “petty slights” or “simple teasing” rather than reach the level of “frequent and severe” harassment “that creates a hostile or offensive work environment.” (6.5, 6.6)  

6.7: When is teasing too much? When and how do you report a bully safely?

When to report a bully and how to do so safely are important topics to discuss with employees and managers before problems occur. Developing company policies and educating staff regarding the guidance can also help prevent problems or help events go more smoothly and safely if problems do occur.

Click "When to Report? How?" to continue reading.

However before I get back to the topic of spotting bullies, we travel through time and around the world in a discussion about why people individually or in groups have a tendency to harass or discriminate against others, so for the convenience of those in a troubling situation right now, a few links:

  • 11 Ways to Spot a Psychopath at Work: (6.18)
  • How to Work for a Narcissistic Boss: (6.19)
  • Hostile Work Environment - How to Document and Prove - 2017: (6.20)
  • An article by forensicsnotes.com, a web service for virtual document storage that provides time-stamps to help make documents support a legal case. Free trial accounts are available: (6.21)

 "The purpose of fear is to raise your awareness, not to stop your progress."  - Steve Maraboli


If you feel afraid in a work or private situation it is likely time to seek advice from human resources

 or other experienced individuals.

  • See the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website for further information regarding legal protection against Harassment and Discrimination due to “Age, Disability, Equal Pay Compensation, Genetic Information, Harassment, National Origin, Pregnancy, Race/Color, Religion, Retaliation, Sex-Based Discrimination, and Sexual Harassment.” (6.1)
  • RAINN, Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, hotline 1-800-656-HOPE, RAINN.org: (6.22)
  • U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 1-800-273-8255, Available 24 hours everyday. suicidepreventionlifeline.org (6.23)
  • Power and Control and Equality Wheels: handouts developed for helping victims of domestic violence and batterers learn how to recognize problem behaviors, but emotional manipulation or abuse of power and control can occur in many types of relationships not just between couples and the concepts and advice might be helpful better understand issues occurring in business relationships also.The Power and Control Wheel (I.21)  was developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP). (I.22)  Manipulative behaviors are grouped into eight categories in the model. An additional Equality Wheel (I.23) was developed to help guide batterers and victims of emotional or physical abuse towards healthier ways to interact. Problems frequently involve communication issues with both the halves of a conversation - or if both are speaking and no one is listening then is there even a conversation taking place?  


  • Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes. 
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a service for locating a nutrition counselor near you at the website eatright.org: (eatright.org/find-an-expert

Click for more information:

7. When to report? How?

When is it time to report a bully? Especially if it's your boss? and how?


Document first. Get witnesses if possible.

8. Trust is learned early.

Our early childhood experiences can affect our later trust in others or even in the products we buy. How secure we felt with early caregivers can leave us more or less trusting as adults.

9. Friendliness helps.

A friendly work environment can help prevent stress and anger in workers, and anger can be a precursor for violence. A hostile environment can also affect the trust of customers for the business.

10. Food helps too.

Staff or customers who become overly hungry and tired may be more prone to anger or violence, especially if alcohol is available. Water and food protect against dehydration and irritability. 

11. What is sexism?

Harassment and discrimination are similar but different. Harassment may involve teasing or bullying while discrimination involves unfair employment practices such as hiring or pay inequality based on gender.

12. Equal Opportunity Policies

We can't change human nature, however the better we understand ourselves as individuals and groups, the better we can develop policies that enhance our strengths and work around our weaknesses.

Instinct & Policy; Resources

A woman is looking at a laptop computer, a bottle of water, pile of books & a phone are on the desk.

Table of Contents

  • Chapters and Glossary section summaries & links, and a link for the book version of this site, Instinct & Policy: Effective Care and Best Practices for Promoting Health and Preventing Harassment and Discrimination. 

A panel discussion forum with a diverse group of speakers.

6. Links & References

 

Links and Reference footnotes for

Chapter 6: Equal Opportunity Service.  




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Glossary & Resources

  • Definitions of terms and the resources & therapy techniques from the various sections gathered in one location for convenience with some additional topics and material for background detail not covered elsewhere.