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Beware of thinly-veiled discrimination practices at your job

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Most workers in Southern California know that their employers may not discriminate in hiring and promotions based on an employee's race, religion, sex, gender, age, disability status or sexual orientation. Workers are protected from illegal discrimination by a variety of state, federal and local laws...at least in theory.

What actually goes on in some companies

Unfortunately, some hiring managers often try to get around anti-discrimination laws for their own purposes. It's these insidious forms of discriminatory hiring practices that are hardest to prove in court challenges. But fortunately, they are not impossible to expose.

Pretextual discrimination means that an employer sets up a system to discriminate against protected groups without crossing the line. It could be something as obvious as discriminating against an applicant based on his or her appearance.

For example, a company might set dress codes that are nearly impossible for applicants of certain races or religions to comply with. Insisting on certain grooming styles may also be impossible for some applicants to comply with. Yet employers might still attempt to maintain that these regulations are not discriminatory to the workforce.

Other examples include:

  • Education: Would you need a high school diploma to be able to dig a ditch or mow a green on a golf course? Most would agree that you would not. But an employer might use that requirement to weed out immigrant or minority applicants.
  • Technology: There are plenty of jokes about senior citizens struggling to master technologies that their grandchildren can breeze through. But, when listing 200 or more Twitter followers as a job requirement that is unrelated to the actual skills needed to do the job, it might be a thinly-veiled way to discriminate against older workers.
  • Physical strength: There's no doubt that some jobs require a certain level of physical strength and agility. For instance, a firefighter must be able to scale a ladder carrying heavy equipment. Without a certain amount of physical strength, he or she would not be able to do the job. But companies might be padding their job descriptions with unrealistic physical strength requirements to intentionally discourage female applicants.

If the hiring practices of a potential employer or the promoting standards of your company seem a little fishy to you, listen to your intuition, and take a harder look. Don't be a victim of discrimination.

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