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What is accidental workplace discrimination?

Oct 13, 2023 | Employment litigation

California is known for having worker-friendly employment and anti-discrimination laws. Of course, these laws prohibit intentional discrimination, but they also bar unintentional practices that adversely impact protected employees.

In other words, employers may be liable even when the discrimination was unintentional. Unfortunately, this could lead to a costly employment-related lawsuit.

How can unintentional discrimination occur?

Most claims arise from employment policies or practices that negatively affect individual workers or protected groups protected under federal and state laws. For example, a policy requiring male employees to remove facial hair could violate the rights of those with religious beliefs that disallow shaving (Sikh, etc.).

More examples of accidental discrimination:

  • Age discrimination. Job ads that state a preference for youth or recent college graduates.
  • Religious or cultural discrimination. Dress codes that prevent employees from following their faith or cultural traditions.
  • Pregnancy or family discrimination. Questions about the personal lives of applicants or employees (marital status, pregnancy plans, etc.).
  • Disability discrimination. Imposing physical demands (lifting specific amounts, etc.) that infringe on disabled individuals’ right to employment.

So far, we have discussed specific accidental discrimination, but sometimes workplace policies may affect those who do not even work for you under the doctrine of disparate impact. 

What does it mean?

Under this law, employers may face a discrimination claim when their practices and policies appear neutral but disproportionately impact members of a protected group, such as racial minorities or disabled individuals.

All workplace discrimination claims are complex and require a diligent approach, but disparate impact claims may be even more complicated. Consider obtaining legal guidance to help you cultivate an inclusive work environment or to represent you if someone targets you in a discrimination claim.