Is Unconscious Bias In The Workplace Illegal?

Saying that unconscious bias is illegal would be like criminalizing breathing, being human means that each of us navigates life with unconscious bias. However, just like breathing exercises exist to improve efficiency, training also exist for addressing unconscious bias in the workplace and life. Unconscious bias, although not illegal on its own, becomes dangerous when employment decisions are based on stereotypes and assumptions from unconscious bias. Employment discrimination is illegal.

Unconscious bias might be the reason a boss refuses to promote a woman or overlooks a black job applicant for an open job position. Frankly, unconscious bias never excuses employment discrimination.

Why Do Unconscious Biases Exist?

Theories exist for the idea that unconscious bias helped past ancestors survive the stone ages and other more trying times in human history. Unconscious bias allows humans to quickly sort people and objects into groups based on age, skin color, gender, disability, and so much more. Once people are categorized, certain stereotypes and presumed behavior are placed on each. The benefit of unconscious bias is that it conserves mental energy for other tasks.

What’s So Bad about Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious bias associates different groups of people with negative opinions and beliefs. Most of the time, people are unaware that their unconscious bias is doing this. When an assumption based on an unconscious bias surfaces, people will act according to this bias. The danger of biases that people are unaware of fuel employment decisions such as hiring, promoting, and firing.

Unconscious Bias Influences Behavior

Research shows that unconscious bias breaks into more than 150 different, identified types of bias. With such a large number of biases, recognizing and addressing each one can be overwhelming. But since unconscious bias has rocked the internet, many companies are prioritizing employee training in unconscious bias to help eliminate discrimination based on unconscious bias. Google has spear-headed this movement and many other organizations are following behind.

Unsurprisingly, unconscious bias threatens the workplace. Subtle employment discrimination is often rooted in unconscious bias. Out of the many types of unconscious bias, a few are known to impact the work environment.

  • Affinity bias
  • Halo effect
  • Perception bias
  • Confirmation bias
  • Group think

Affinity Bias

People like people who are like them. It’s that simple. There’s a natural affinity to warm up to people who share a lot of similarities.

Halo Effect

Some people have a tendency to believe that another person walks on water, regardless of whether or not they are good. Everything they do is good because you like them. Welcome to the puppy love phase of new relationships, right? It happens in work and friendships, too.

Perception Bias

Base opinions and thoughts of a group of people on stereotypes and assumptions. When this perception clouds the view, making an objective decision about the people in these groups is impossible. This is where discrimination begins.

Confirmation Bias

Many people validate preexisting beliefs by searching for information that only matches what they already believe. Research that contradicts such beliefs is ignored or ridiculed. Anyone else thinking of Facebook discussions?

Group Think

A tendency to try hard to fit in to the majority group by swallowing opinions and thoughts while playing along with the popular opinion. People who participate in group think tend to lose part of their identities while the rest of the group misses the chance for varied discussion and better brainstorming.

Behavior Caused by Unconscious Bias

Hidden biases link to behavior. A common mantra is that “actions speak louder than words.” Action also uncovers bias. While many people control behavior to be open and accepting of others, moments of stress or competition reveal the underlying biases that are usually managed under societal politeness.

The body also sends clues of a person’s bias in small movements. Research points that a blinking rate, eye contact, and smiles can illuminate the existence of unconscious bias. Unsurprisingly, language, such as word choice also ranks as a factor in revealing bias. Humans project unspoken biases on a routine basis through body and language.

Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

The workplace is no place for unconscious bias, and yet, unconscious bias flourishes there. In a business trying to combat employment discrimination, unconscious bias training for employees, especially human resources employees, is a must. Unconscious bias taints hiring practices, promotions, and company feedback, placing many different groups of people at a severe disadvantage and subjecting them to illegal employment discrimination.

Hiring Practices and Promotions

Unconscious bias clouds even the most self-proclaimed un-biased individual, especially in hiring and promotions. Recognizing discrimination requires an obvious statement or action that implies that unconscious bias motivated an employment decision. Businesses that want to fight unconscious bias should invest in employee training and create policies that focus on diversity.

Ways to Support Diversity in the Office

  • include flexible work time, family leave, and telecommuting options
  • partner with organizations that network with diverse groups
  • educate employees on unconscious bias
  • choose language for job openings with precision
  • don’t make assumptions based on external factors in the employee’s life for employment decisions, such as promotions

Employer Feedback to Employees

Unconscious bias shapes the perception of capability within the workplace. Certain groups, depending on gender or race, sometimes recognize that to receive a better work evaluation that they must put in more hours and have more to show than majority groups. Such biased workplace feedback chips away at the career potential of the legally protected class.

Left unchecked unconscious bias in the work environment becomes employment discrimination. Legally protected groups such as women, Hispanics, disabled, and more deal with micro aggression on a daily basis that hint at unconscious bias. On a larger scale, these groups are overlooked for certain career advantages, such as better salaries, job promotions, and work assignments. When these employment actions are linked to unconscious bias and discrimination, an employee can complain in-company and seek legal justice.

Sue for Unconscious Bias in Employment Discrimination

Unconscious bias is not illegal, but unconscious bias can lead to employment discrimination, which is illegal. When employment discrimination occurs for race, gender, age, disability, or sexual orientation, an employee must figure out how to respond. Discrimination is shocking and frustrating, but the government outlines protections against employment decisions motivated by unconscious bias.

1. Check the company policy

The employee handbook often sets out a structure for filing an in-company complaint of discrimination, including a chain of command for verbal complaints.

2. Document everything

Don’t depend on memory for discriminatory events, instead write down all the details of each situation and place it in a safe location.

3. Consult an employment lawyer

Sometimes a company fails to do anything in response to a discrimination complaint, but a lawyer commands the attention of the employer and knows other available legal options.

If you have experienced employment discrimination or sexual harassment, contact an employment attorney now to hear your legal options.

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