While favoritism in a workplace is a bad practice, it is unfortunately very common. People enjoy working with friends, which often inadvertently turns into favoritism at work. The effects of favoritism in the workplace is a negative one, as it can destroy employee morale.
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Let’s dive into the topic.
Favoritism in the workplace occurs when a manager or other senior employee provides special treatment to an employee for reasons unrelated to that employee’s job performance. For example, if an employee and a manager are on the same golf league that meets every Sunday, they may have developed a special relationship that the manager did not develop with other employees. If the manager promotes or otherwise makes a positive employment decision for that employee based on their relationship, and not the employee’s job performance, favoritism may have occurred. Favoritism can be in the form of a promotion, better job assignments, raises, better hours, or the decision to keep that employee on the payroll when others are furloughed or laid off.
Nepotism in the workplace is a practice of appointing relatives to positions for which others are more qualified. Despite its negative connotations, nepotism can be an important and positive practice in the early stages of a startup company where people are usually being asked to work for low salaries. While nepotism is generally not illegal for private employers, it is typically illegal for government positions in New York. This means that a public employee cannot hire a family member or other relative merely because of that relationship. In the private setting, engaging in nepotism, while not illegal, may be (and typically is) against the employment policy of a company, potentially subjecting the hiring manager to discipline.
Cronyism, on the other hand, is the act of hiring friends and associates regardless of qualifications. One of the main problems with cronyism, which you also find in nepotism in the workplace, is the feeling of entitlement that employees hired under these circumstances feel. Because they are friends with\or are related to, an executive with the company, they feel they deserve raises and promotions that should be reserved for more qualified staff members. This creates conflict in the workplace and can result in losing qualified employees. As with nepotism, cronyism is generally not illegal for a private company, as private employers are free to hire who they wish. It is, however, illegal for public employers to engage in cronyism.
One way that companies try to hide favoritism is by promoting employees they trust into positions of management, and then asking those managers to hire their friends and family members. This kind of preferential treatment has the potential to spread throughout the company as management brings more of their favorite employees into positions of authority. While nepotism and favoritism in the workplace are not technically illegal in the private sector, they are generally indicators that other unfair practices may be taking place.
The bottom line is that favoritism, nepotism, and cronyism all lead to unfair treatment at work.
While favoritism in the workplace is not, in and of itself, unlawful, favoritism does become illegal discrimination when the reason behind the favoritism is related to race, age, sex, religion, national origin, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, color or genetic information. That means that as long as your boss is not making decisions based on one of the aforementioned protected traits, he or she is perfectly entitled to play favorites and hire, promote, or offer additional benefits to anyone he or she likes. Thus, your manager is not violating the law by favoring his or her golfing buddies, family members, or even someone on which he or she has a crush.
While most types of favoritism do not violate any laws, you should recognize examples of favoritism at work which are in fact illegal.
This happens when employers make job decisions based on employees’ protected characteristics/traits. If a manager’s favoritism is based on a protected characteristic, such as race, sex, or religion, it would constitute illegal discrimination. For example, it is illegal for a manager to refuse to promote Latino employees and/or to only give desirable assignments to younger workers.
One form of sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor favors employees who submit to the manager’s sexual advances. For example, it is illegal for a supervisor to give certain employees better assignments or other job benefits because they give in to the supervisor’s sexual advances.
Favoritism might violate laws that prohibit retaliation too. For example, it is illegal for a manager to favor employees who have not complained of discrimination or engaged in some other protected activity.
Similarly, it is also illegal retaliation if a manager disfavors an employee (for example, by cutting back her hours, assigning her to the graveyard shift, or taking away prestigious clients) after she complains of discrimination.
When a supervisor continually favors one or a few employees over the others, he or she may be missing out on the talents and skills the others bring to the table. This can lead to promoting someone who is not ready for more responsibilities over someone who is ready and able to take on a challenge.
There is a general sense of unfairness when employees perceive that there is favoritism in the way in which they are treated by management. This brings down company morale because favoritism leads employees to believe that no matter what they do, their efforts won’t be rewarded if they are not one of the favored few.
Favoritism can cause employees to begin to resent the supervisor who is unfairly favoring employees who may not be the most deserving, as well as resent the favored employees who are taking advantage of the situation.
If the resentment reaches a certain point, the company may be at risk of losing some potentially excellent employees who won’t want to stick around where they’re not appreciated.
With a decline in morale, growing resentment, and overlooked potential, a supervisor who unfairly favors one group of employees is also hurting the company overall by stunting the growth that would come from moving the best employees forward to management positions. This also is a consequence of losing employees who may have been of great value.
As an employee, it is very difficult to prevent favoritism from your managers and supervisors without fear of risking your employment. This is because favoritism is technically legal, so speaking out may make you seem unappreciative or jealous in the eyes of others. Despite that, there are a number of things you can do to combat favoritism. One way is to keep track of your accomplishments and be prepared to make the case for yourself.. When your manager is looking to make a decision, be prepared to provide evidence of why you think you are the most deserving employee. Whether this is because you were skipped on the last round of promotions or because you have earned more for the company than your co-workers, concrete evidence is hard to ignore.
Another way to prevent favoritism is to foster a workplace culture of fairness yourself. For example, if you have employees that you supervise, make sure you are not engaging in unconscious favoritism yourself. Keep lists of which employees you provide the best assignments to. Track which employees are rewarded at work and why you decided to reward them. If the employees you supervise directly are treated with fairness and respect, they will begin to demand the same from others.
Sometimes favoritism in the workplace is apparent, especially when a manager and an employee are friends or the managers play favorites. Other Times, however, there is a fine line between favoritism and merit based decisions. The following are some tell-tale signs that favoritism is taking place:
The following examples of favoritism in the workplace are illegal.
If you encounter any of these or similar cases at work, you should consult employment lawyers for workplace fairness to ensure that illegal practices are put to an end.
Try to understand the reason for the preferential treatment. Is it a friendship or other relationship? Is it because of a history or common experience together? Is it simply a matter of habit or trust? Is it due to an unlawful discriminatory reason? Knowing this may help you determine whether it is legal or illegal favoritism.
Speak with your coworkers and find out if they notice the same thing as you. If you are suspecting the illegal form of favoritism (such as ones involving harassment, retaliation or discrimination), it is good to have a witness who could confirm your observations. It is very smart to try to identify the motivation behind the favoritism prior to complaining because discrimination complaints are protected against retaliation while complaints of non-discriminatory favoritism are not protected.
If you believe that the favoritism is the result of discrimination or retaliation (for complaining of discrimination), complain to Human Resources or your supervisor in writing and inform them that you have witnessed discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. Sometimes, just bringing it to the employer’s attention can solve the problem. Once aware, the manager can work to treat employees more fairly.
Regardless of whether your case involves an illegal form of favoritism, most companies try to eliminate favoritism in the workplace, so reporting this to Human Resources or your supervisor can actually be beneficial for the company. If Human Resources and your supervisor are incapable of managing the illegal favoritism in the workplace, then you need professional help. Whether favoritism provides grounds for a lawsuit depends solely on why the favoritism took place. An experienced employment lawyer can assess whether you have any claims against your employer, and how best to protect your rights.
The effects of favoritism in the workplace can be debilitating to your career and professional development. Thankfully, however, they are plenty of ways to help alleviate the impact of favoritism, such a the following:
Each situation is different and in a plain case of favoritism, you generally cannot sue your employer. If the favortism amounts to discrimination, however, this may be illegal. For example, if a manager disfavors employees of a certain racial background, religion, age, or sex, such favortism may amount to illegal discrimination. If you believe you were treated unfairly at work due to a discriminatory or retaliatory motive, you call Moshes Law for a free consultation. Our attorneys have helped hundreds of clients overcome unfair employment practices, oftentimes without any cost to them.
If you are experiencing favoritism in the workplace and believe it is holding you back, you may have certain rights under the law or otherwise. While corporate favoritism is not illegal, it is oftentimes against corporate policies, especially at large employers. A working environment free from corporate favoritism is generally best for the company and the employees.
If favoritism is taking place in your employment, contact an attorney at the Moshes Law Firm today. Our attorneys will discuss your situation through a free consultation, at no cost to you. We can help you evaluate your options for seeking a fair and just workplace.