EVERY workplace consists of people from different cultural, religious or social backgrounds. These differences may give rise to discrimination, regardless of the laws and regulations that prevent it from happening. Discrimination in the workplace occurs in different forms, based on characteristics such as age, gender, race, marital status or ethnic background.
Discrimination is prejudicial treatment towards a person because of a group they are a part of. Recognising the types of workplace discrimination will enable one to identify discrimination.
Discrimination based on race or country of origin usually occurs in the form of harassment at the workplace, while sex-based discrimination takes on many forms at work. Sexual harassment is one of the most obvious forms and may include unwanted sexual advances, propositions or crude remarks towards an employee.
Discrimination based on religion involves treating a person unfairly because of his religious affiliation, and this includes harassment and preferential or negative treatment.
The only specific equality and anti-discrimination act in Malaysia is the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008. This act represents a positive step towards the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities. However, the act does not include operative provisions setting out the rights to equality and non-discrimination, but it does incorporate some of the country’s obligations.
Discrimination in the work environment happens by and large, yet it isn’t generally unmistakable. Employees see signs of discrimination in everyday activities, such as performance reviews, the hiring and firing process, and dynamics between co-workers, which deprive them of career opportunities and adversely affect employee status.
An overall organisation culture of low morale could mean there is discrimination. Employees may be found doing more whispering than working, acting hostile towards each other and shunning or refusing to work with certain groups of people. The reasons could be because of unfair promotions, favouritism or a lack of acknowledgement from supervisors. These actions hinder healthy workplace communication and leave employees feeling insecure, unappreciated and anxious.
Article 8 is the cornerstone of constitutional protection of the rights to equality and non-discrimination in Malaysia. Article 8(1) states that: “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.”
Article 8(2) states that: “There shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority or in the administration of any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.”
Findings demonstrate that workplace discrimination is a reality. The effects on employees can be both mentally and physically devastating. A halt in career advancement, increased health issues, slowed productivity and low self-esteem are the results.
Ending workplace discrimination starts by making sure employees and employers know the law.
Hiring a diverse group of employees helps stop discrimination. Employees learn to understand other cultures and have mutual respect.
Providing employees with the necessary information is the first step in stopping discrimination. The head of a department should talk to employees and get feedback on the day-to-day operations.
Is there gossip about a co-worker’s disability? Do racial prejudices exist between team members? Is a man making a woman feel uncomfortable by leaning too close or resting his hand on her leg while discussing an assignment? Employees begin to feel respected and valued when management listens to their concerns.
Employees’ rights in the workplace protect them from not just discrimination but hazardous working conditions and wrongful terminations as well. Employees possess the right to fair treatment, which protects them from workplace harassment and discrimination.
AZIZI AHMAD, Kuala Lumpur