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Workplace discrimination a reality in Malaysia — Azizi Ahmad

JULY 20 — Every workplace consists of people who come from different cultural, religious or social backgrounds. These differences may give rise to discrimination, regardless of the fact that many countries enact regulations to curb its occurrence. Discrimination in the workplace occurs in different forms based on characteristics, such as age, gender, race, marital status or ethnic background.

Discrimination is prejudicial treatment toward a person because of a group they are a part of. While laws are in place to prevent discrimination in the workplace, many people still find themselves being discriminated against at work every day. Recognising the types of workplace discrimination will enable you to identify discrimination when it occurs, whether you, a co-worker or another employee is the victim.

Discrimination based on race or country of origin is prohibited, but that does not mean the practice does not exist. People may experience racial discrimination in the form of harassment around the work place.

Sex-based discrimination takes on many forms at work. Sexual harassment is one of the most obvious forms, and may include unwanted sexual advances, propositions or crude remarks toward an employee. 

Discrimination based on religion involves treating a person unfairly because of his religious affiliation, and is prohibited.  Religous discrimination includes harassment and preferential or negative treatment.

The only specific equality and anti-discrimination Act in Malaysia is the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008. This Act represents a positive step towards the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities. However, the Act does not include operative provisions setting out the rights to equality and non-discrimination, but it does incorporate some of Malaysia’s obligations.

Discrimination in the work environment happens by and large, yet it isn't generally unmistakable. Employees see signs of discrimination in everyday activities, such as performance reviews, the hiring and firing process, and dynamics between co-workers, which deprive them of career opportunities and adversely affect employee status.

An overall organisation culture of low morale could mean there is discrimination going on. Employees may be found doing more whispering than working, acting hostile toward each other, and shunning or refusing to work with certain groups of people. The reasons could be because of unfair promotions, favoritism or a lack of acknowledgement from supervisors. These actions hinder healthy workplace communication and leave employees feeling insecure, unappreciated and anxiety ridden.

Absenteeism and employee medical leaves rise when people feel discriminated against. A red flag goes up when an employee consistently misses work, fails to complete assignments on time and finds excuses to leave projects that were once rewarding.

Signs of sudden reduced productivity in an otherwise great employee could mean members of a team are excluding him from important meetings or he is intimidated because seasoned workers have begun making jokes about him.

Article 8 is the cornerstone of Constitutional protection of the rights to equality and non-discrimination in Malaysia. Article 8(1) states that: “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.”589 Article 8(2) states that: There shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority or in the administration of any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.590 Article 8(2) offers a limited protection from discrimination, in terms of the types of individuals which it seeks to protect, and the scope of protection it offers to those it does protect.

Findings demonstrate that workplace discrimination is a reality for thousands of workers every year. The effects on employees can be both mentally and physically devastating. A halt in career advancement, increased health issues, slowed productivity and low self-esteem are the result, 

Ending workplace discrimination starts by making sure employees and employers know the law. Employees have the right to work in an environment free of harassment due to age, sex, race, ability, religion and ethnicity.

Hiring a diverse group of employees helps stop discrimination. Employees learn to understand other cultures and ages, for example, and have a mutual respect for all team members.

Providing employees with the necessary information is the first step in stopping discrimination. Head of department must take the lead and ensure that discrimination is stopped in all departments and during every business initiative, such as hiring and firing.

Talk to employees and get feedback about the day-to-day operations in the workplace. Is there gossip about a co-worker's disability? Do racial prejudices exist between team members? Is a man making a woman feel uncomfortable by leaning too close or resting his hand on her leg while discussing an assignment?

Employees begin to feel respected and valued when management listens to concerns.

“Employers should use employee workplace assessments, satisfaction surveys and data to find out which policies to implement," This helps retain employees, raise productivity and morale, lower absenteeism, and ultimately, boost the bottom line.

Employees' rights in the workplace protect them from not just discrimination, but hazardous working conditions and wrongful terminations, as well. Employees possess the right to fair treatment, which protects them from workplace harassment and discrimination.

Fair treatment also guarantees workers' right to access reasonable workplace accommodation to cope with their disability needs or practice their beliefs.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.