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Inclusive Workplaces

When our educators are safe, welcome, and included, they can focus on educating our students. Here's what you need to know to about equity and the law at work.
Educators at conference table NEA
Educators at the 2019 ESP Pre-Conference tackle equity and inclusion in schools and the community

We are committed to ensuring equity and inclusion in the workplace for all our members by providing the tools to recognize and respond to discrimination. For when our educators can thrive, our students can, too. As Education Minnesota member–and 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year–Kelly D. Holstine said:

Students are more successful when they can see themselves in both their schools and in their curriculum; and all students benefit when they can learn from a variety of experiences and perspectives.

Below we define illegal discrimination under federal, provide key facts about discrimination against people of different races, backgrounds, genders, sexual orientation, and abilities, and guidance on how to respond to discrimination in the workplace–including how your union can support you. You can also learn how to build diverse workplaces here.

What is discrimination?

Discriminatory acts covered under the Civil Rights Act may include: 

  • Termination 
  • Not being selected for a promotion
  • Harassment (by your employer or other employees)
  • Sexual harassment, including sexual assault, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
  • Retaliation for complaining about discrimination or harassment.
  • Other adverse employment actions

Not all discrimination is overt. Innocent banter, jokes, and stereotypes are all discriminatory practices. It does not matter if the person did not intend to be offensive. It does not matter if “everyone laughed.” It does not matter if the comments weren’t directed to the person who was offended. However, most isolated comments or incidents will not be enough to support a discrimination claim based on harassment. The harassment must be so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment.

How to Respond to Discrimination in the Workplace

Employees should take action to protect their rights in the workplace. It may help curb offending behavior, and is important should you need to take more significant legal action. You should: 

  • Talk to the offender: You are not obligated to take this step, but it may be the best way to get the behavior to stop. And should you need to pursue legal action, proving the behavior was unwanted is important. 
  • Document the behavior: Keep records of what is happening. Include the time, place, witnesses, and circumstances of each incident. Make sure to do the same for any meetings with management or human resources personnel as well. 
  • Look at your collective bargaining agreement: See what information it provides.
  • Report: Find out the proper procedures for reporting discrimination or harassment, and follow that process. 
  • Contact your local union: We can help you map out a course of action and take the appropriate steps to find resolution for the discrimination or harassment. 

What to do if you think you need to take legal action

Legal counsel may be able to provide advice and guidance on how to best handle the acts of discrimination against you. Members should reach out to their state association when seeking counsel. They may offer legal services through the Unified Legal Services Program. Many lawyers specialize in workplace discrimination, and will be able to evaluate the employees case based on the on the employee’s specific circumstances, and keep you abreast of deadlines.

Victims of discrimination and/or harassment must file a charge with either the EEOC or with a state or local human rights agency before bringing a lawsuit. And there are set timelines in which this process must take place. Information on these processes is available in the downloads section below. 

Retaliation for asserting your rights

You cannot be retaliated against for exercising your rights to a discrimination-free workplace. Retaliatory acts include any negative job action — demotion, discipline, firing, salary reduction, or job or shift reassignment. 

This includes: 

  • Inquiring about legal rights under employment law or employer policy 
  • Reporting or complaining about discrimination or harassment
  • Assisting in a complaint investigation
Member Edwin Manarrez
There are a lot of like-minded people who work hard to improve public schools for their students, and I find the more involved I am with my union, the more it welcomes me—and I appreciate that. ⁣
Quote by: Edwin Moñarrez, Special Education Teacher, Illinois Education Association
student diversity

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National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.