When it’s clear that certain employees – especially those in a position of power – favor some colleagues over others, it can be difficult. Sure, if you are the one being favored you might not see anything wrong with it. But, if you notice that other people are being favored over you, this can affect the work environment. It can create resentment and discourage many employees. Blatant favoritism certainly isn’t a good management strategy, but is it illegal? The answer really depends on the circumstances. Here, I will discuss some situations in which favoritism is legal and others in which it is illegal.
When Favoritism is Legal
While favoritism in the workplace is not a good practice, in some cases it is also not illegal. This is the case if favoritism is a result of factors such as personality or a person’s work ethic. Some people just naturally get along better than others. They complement each other and have chemistry. This could result in favoritism in the workplace. However, this type of favoritism is legal.
A few examples of favoritism that is legal is:
- Favoring coworkers who are friends outside of work.
- Favoring people based on similar interests (etc. went to the same college, like the same sports teams, etc.).
On the other hand, there are some situations in which favoritism is illegal. For example, if your boss doesn’t like you and this results in retaliation on their part, this is not acceptable. If you complain about your boss’ illegal favoritism practices and they try to retaliate against you, you face illegal favoritism. If you have complained about harassment or discrimination and your boss treats you even worse because of it, you have a problem on your hands. For example, if your boss makes you work difficult hours, cuts back on your hours, passes on you for a raise or a promotion, etc., this could attempt to punish you. This is not legal and you should seek professional help from an attorney as soon as possible.
If favoritism is a result of an employer’s discrimination, this constitutes illegal favoritism. When job decisions are made based on an employee’s protected traits, such as race, sex, disability, age, etc., legal action can be taken against them. United States law protects these traits and explicitly states that they should not constitute the basis of any employment action. For example, giving promotions to men over more qualified women, making minorities work graveyard shifts, etc. could constitute illegal discrimination.
Another common form of illegal favoritism takes the form of sexual harassment. This can take many different forms in the workplace. For example, both the victims of sexual harassment and other employees can suffer from this type of favoritism. If a victim of sexual harassment enjoys job benefits because they put up with the harassment, this can negatively affect other employees. Of course, the victim also faces a difficult work environment when dealing with unwanted sexual advances.
These are a few examples of favoritism in the workplace. Sometimes favoritism crosses the line and become illegal.