Favoritism in the workplace can be frustrating for other employees. This occurs when supervisors base job benefits based on who they favor instead of on who is performing the best job for the business. Companies that allow favoritism in the workplace often have low morale and high turnover. Favoritism harms productivity and performance and can result in lower job retention rates. Workers whose good work is unrecognized may decide to leave the company to find new opportunities.
While favoritism in the workplace is an example of poor management, it is not always illegal. However, favoritism can be illegal if it is based on unlawful reasons. When a supervisor’s favoritism of some employees and poor treatment of others is based on the disfavored employees’ protected characteristics, it can constitute unlawful discrimination. There are some situations in which favoritism might also be a violation of an employment contract or company policy. These might also be grounds to file a lawsuit. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler can review what occurred and explain whether your employer’s favoritism is unlawful.
Favoritism as a form of discrimination or harassment
Employers are not allowed to discriminate against workers based on their protected characteristics, including sex, race, religion, national origin, color, pregnancy, disability, genetic information, or age if they are over 40 under federal and state laws. If a supervisor favors employees who are members of a majority class while singling out members of protected classes for poor treatment, favoritism may be grounds to file a lawsuit. For example, if a supervisor refuses to offer promotions to black workers or gives better assignments to only young workers, the workers may be able to file lawsuits for discrimination against their employer.
Another situation in which favoritism is illegal occurs when supervisors provide favors to workers who acquiesce to unwelcome sexual advances. This is a type of sexual harassment called quid pro quo harassment. Workers who give in to the sexual advances to gain benefits at their jobs may have valid grounds to file sexual harassment claims. Workers who do not receive the benefits or who refuse the harassment may also have valid claims if their jobs suffer because of the supervisor’s conduct.
In some cases, workplace favoritism may violate laws prohibiting retaliation. For example, a supervisor who only gives bonuses and promotions to workers who are against forming a union or to those who have refused to participate in an investigation of the company may be acting in violation of the law. Numerous state and federal laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who engage in protected activities, including filing internal complaints, reporting employer misconduct, filing discrimination charges, or filing lawsuits. When a supervisor treats workers poorly for these types of reasons while favoring other workers, it can amount to unlawful retaliation.
Contracts and company policies
Favoritism in the workplace might violate the company’s policies. If certain benefits are promised in the employee handbook using a predetermined method for when employees will receive raises or promotions, a supervisor who engages in favoritism and violates the policies could lead to a lawsuit against the company. Some courts have found written policies that are contained in employee handbooks create contracts. Employers must follow the provisions of contracts. If they do not, the employees can sue the employer for breaching the contract.
Some employees work under employment contracts. Depending on the terms of an employment contract, favoritism could violate it. For example, if a worker has an employment contract that specifies that he or she can only be terminated for cause, the employer might violate the contract if a supervisor fires the worker and fills the job with his or her friend.
Favoritism in government employment
Favoritism in government jobs and at some private employers that receive government funding may be illegal. Many more regulations cover government jobs in terms of hiring, firing, promoting, and disciplining employees. Favoritism in government jobs may be deemed to be nepotism, which is often considered to be unlawful. Favoritism in government jobs can also violate public policy.
Get help from the attorneys at Swartz Swidler
If your employer engages in favoritism of certain employees in violation of the law, your employment contract, or company policy, you might benefit from talking to the experienced employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler. We can review the facts of what happened to determine whether valid grounds exist to file a lawsuit against your employer. By filing a lawsuit, you might be able to hold your employer accountable for what has occurred and help to deter similar conduct in the future. Contact us today by filling out our contact form or calling us at 856.685.7420.