It can be frustrating to work at a company in which the supervisors or managers regularly show favoritism to some workers over others. While showing favoritism at work is a poor management practice, it is not necessarily illegal. Favoritism causes other employees to feel resentful, and they may be disincentivized from providing good work. Favoritism often harms employee morale. When workers see that it is more beneficial to be on a manager’s good side instead of doing good work, they might not feel like there is a reason to work hard. Favoritism can also result in lowered productivity. Workers who are not getting the best assignments may instead spend more time complaining and gossiping about the work environment rather than doing their work.
Favoritism is not always illegal. Whether favoritism at your work is legal or illegal will depend on the reasons why your employer is favoring or disfavoring different workers. There isn’t a law that prohibits companies from having bad supervisors or from treating the workplace as if it is a junior high school. If the favoritism is because of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment, it is not simply evidence of poor management and is instead illegal. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler can help you to determine whether your boss’s favoritism of other workers is legal or if it amounts to illegal discrimination.
When favoritism is illegal discrimination
Federal and state governments have made it illegal for employers to make certain job decisions based on the protected characteristics of their employees. Both federal and state laws have identified a number of different protected characteristics that cannot be the reasons for certain types of discriminatory actions. For example, it is illegal for employers to treat people differently based on their religion, color, race, gender, pregnancy status, disability status, sexual orientation, national origin, or age.
If your boss favors certain workers over others, it may be illegal if it is based on your protected characteristic. For example, if your boss only gives promotions to men or gives the best job assignments to workers that share his or her religious beliefs, it is discriminatory in nature.
The favoritism that is based on something else may not be illegal, however. For example, if your boss favors workers who are his or her buddies from college or who share his or her taste in music, it is not discrimination.
Favoritism as sexual harassment
Some types of favoritism may amount to sexual harassment. If your boss favors an employee because he or she has submitted to the boss’s sexual demands, it could amount to illegal harassment. For instance, if an employee is given better job assignments, raises, or other perks because he or she puts up with the harassment from your boss, you and the other workers may have a legal complaint against your company. When favoritism at work is conditioned on putting up with sexual harassment, you may have a valid sexual harassment claim even if you were not directly harassed by your supervisor.
In some situations, favoritism of romantic partners at work may constitute sexual harassment. While the romantic partners themselves are not being harassed, other employees might feel that the only way to move ahead in their careers is to have sexual intercourse with their boss. This type of favoritism may cross the line from unprofessional behavior to illegal harassment.
Favoritism as retaliation
If your manager makes his or her decisions in order to punish workers who have complained about his or her illegal behavior, it could be illegal. For example, if you and other workers complained to OSHA about safety violations at your job, your employer could be found to have engaged in illegal retaliation if he or she subsequently gives the best assignments to workers who did not join the complaint. It is also illegal for employers to take adverse actions against employees because of engaging in protected activities.
What to do if your employer is engaging in discriminatory favoritism
If your employer is engaging in behavior that you believe to be discriminatory in nature, you may have legal rights. You should start within your company by filing a written complaint about what has occurred. Your company likely has a policy in place for how to submit complaints. Follow the policy, and keep a copy of the complaint that you submit.
After your company receives your complaint, it should conduct an investigation. If it fails to investigate your complaint or retaliates against you for complaining, you should talk to an experienced employment lawyer. An attorney may help you to file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if it appears that your employer’s actions are discriminatory in nature.
After the EEOC receives your complaint, it will investigate it. In some cases, the EEOC will take your case and represent you against your employer. In others, it may decide not to take your case and may give you a notice of your right to file a lawsuit. If you are given leave to sue, your lawyer may file a civil action against your employer in the court that has jurisdiction to hear your claim.
Get legal help
If favoritism is a problem at your job, you might want to talk to an experienced lawyer at Swartz Swidler. We can review your potential claim and give you an honest evaluation of whether the treatment is lawful or unlawful. If we agree to accept your case, we can help you to understand the types of evidence that you need to gather and help you with your discrimination charge. Submitting substantial evidence of discriminatory behavior by your employer with your discrimination charge may increase your chances of succeeding in your case. If the EEOC gives you leave to sue, we may file a case against your employer in court and pursue all of the legal remedies that you might have available to you. Contact the law firm of Swartz Swidler today to schedule a free consultation.