Thursday, August 21, 2008

Black Folks Change Laws

I’ve often heard people say, “Black folks change laws.” This expression means that if a practice, procedure, law, etc. seems to benefit an African American or can be used as a “shelter” by an African American (e.g., protection against workplace, housing, and other forms of discrimination), White folks will simply change the rules in order to destroy or negate the effects of that benefit.

I’ve learned just how true that expression is by getting caught in The Black Factor cross-hairs at previous jobs. For instance, I’ve had a prior employer change the “law” by making revisions and additions to the personnel manual that were meant to negate my complaints against the company.

But, when companies change laws for Black folks, it doesn’t have to be as drastic as changing the personnel manual. Here are a few ways I’ve seen procedures changed to “unaccommodate” African American employees, while utilizing The Black Factor as a mechanism for disparate treatment:

• Adding undocumented requirements to promotion or hiring criteria, such as stating there is a “preference” for something or other that was not or has not been required of White staff. For instance, an African American with a B.A. may be told they can’t be a certain level or classification because they do not have a Ph.D. However, a White new hire with a B.A. is brought in at the strictly Ph.D. level/classification--without any basis for the disparity;

• Changing procedures to add a layer of work to a job, particularly administrative work, when an African American takes over a job for White staff;

• Taking a “wait and see” attitude with nearly every request made by African Americans. Depending on where you work, every request may be “too premature” for discussion. For instance, an African American may be told that it is too premature to discuss better or more advanced assignments, but they are not told that there are things they need to work on before these opportunities are made available; and

• How about the lunch game? You know, where they suddenly change the lunch and/or work schedules for no other reason than to prevent a group of African Americans from being available to go to lunch together. No credible work-related reasoning can account for the change in schedules.

If you find yourself dealing with new rules, here are some things you can do:

--When you notice laws being changed or policies being violated to create double-standards, document them! Your documentation may help demonstrate disparate treatment in your workplace. I suggest that you:

--Keep hard copies of important memos, emails, and written guidelines!

--Maintain a log containing examples of unequal treatment!

--Keep hard copies of the sections in the personnel manual that govern areas where you have a complaint! With technological advances, some companies are only maintaining the personnel manual online through an employee-only intranet site. However your personnel manual is available, you should be sure to print or copy anything that may be relevant to your area of grievance. If there have been updates or revisions to policies that are germane to any issues or complaints you have at work, be sure to print the addendums and revised text--while maintaining the original copy of the policy. You want to be able to compare the original and revised/added versions of the corporate policy. This is especially helpful if you request an internal or external investigation.

--When you feel you have enough examples and evidence to demonstrate unequal treatment in your workplace, address the situation with your supervisor or with Human Resources. There truly is strength in numbers, so if more than one person is willing to put their name on the grievance, your case will be stronger and your issue will be taken more seriously.

REMEMBER: Although it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for filing a good faith complaint about discrimination, any on-the-job complaint/grievance could result in retaliation or harassment. Only you can decide if you are ready to take on the disparities at your job.

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