Favouritism in the workplace is the fear of many employees. And there is no doubt that bad management allows favouritism to flourish. All employees are entitled to and expect to be treated equally. Favouritism can cause employees to feel they have been treated unfairly or feel that there has been some form of discrimination. While it is not best practice, favouritism is not necessarily illegal. There is nothing unlawful about a manager favouring an employee or a group of employees. However, of course, if that favouritism is rooted in discrimination or goes against adverse action laws there may be a legal risk for the business.
What Is Favouritism In The Workplace?
Favouritism is broadly defined as favouring someone or some group in the workplace for reasons outside of their job performance. A well-known type of favouritism is nepotism. Nepotism means to show favour to family members or friends. Another example of favouritism is when an employee or group of employees is treated differently due to personal characteristics. Treatment towards employees based on personal characteristics can be seen as discrimination. Whether it is real or perceived, subtle or overt, employees are highly attuned to bosses who may be playing favourites amongst their staff.
Favouritism As A Form Of Discrimination
The Fair Work Act 2009 protects workers from discrimination. Personal characteristics protected from discrimination include:
race, colour, national or ethnic origin or immigrant status
religion or political opinion
sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity
pregnancy or breastfeeding
family or career responsibilities
physical or mental disability
State laws further protect employees from discrimination and may include additional characteristics. Playing ‘favourites’ based on the above characteristics can leave your business exposed to potential adverse action claims.
Managing Favouritism In the Workplace
Here are a few ways to manage favouritism, including how to prevent it. A workplace rife with favouritism fosters low morale, a bad culture and overlooking potential and good performers.
Nurture A Professional Environment
Protect your workplace from potential favouritism by nurturing a professional environment. Favouritism is a fundamentally unprofessional phenomenon. Foster a serious work focus is the first step in warding off favouritism.
Provide A Policy
Communicating to your employees and managers (if applicable) your expectations is another great way to protect from favouritism. A policy is the best way to provide this information. Providing a copy to all employees is the clearest and firmest way of communicating your expectations. It also signals how seriously you take the issue.
What is and isn’t discrimination is not always intuitive. To prevent favouritism due to discrimination, consider offering training for your staff. During this training session, you can educate employees of the drawbacks of favouritism.
Nip It In The Bud
If you see any signs of favouritism sprouting, stop them early. Addressing the problem directly can be difficult, but it can stop any further damage caused by favouritism. It is strongly suggested to address favouritism if you believe it may be discriminatory.
Assign Tasks Fairly
You should assign tasks in a fair and equitable way, and keep yourself accountable to who is doing what. Keep track of who has been given the more prestigious projects, who has been stuck with grunt work, and switch it up accordingly. Rotating the work is a great way to make sure everyone is feeling equally valued.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is Favouritism in the Workplace Illegal?
Is It Illegal to Treat Employees Differently?
Is Favouritism a Form of Harassment?
How Can Favouritism Be Prevented in the Workplace?
- Cultivate a professional environment. Favouritism is a very unprofessional behaviour. Set up the workplace to reward professionalism and strong performers.
- Produce a policy document and distribute it to staff. A policy document is the best bet to letting staff know of your expectations. A policy document has the added benefit of telling your staff that you’re serious about the issue.
- Offer training to staff. Favouritism training can educate staff about the dangers of favouritism – poor morale, overlooking of potential and a bad culture. Favouritism training can also cover the important topic of discrimination.
How Should Employers Treat Employees?
- Treat all employees equally
- Treat all employees respectfully
- Treat all employees fairly
- Treat all employees without discriminating against them
- Reward employees only on the basis of the quality of their work
- Be vigilant about any emerging favouritism in the workplace
How Do You Address an Unfair Treatment at Work?
- Investigate the matter and interview staff about it
- Decide and note what, if any, behaviour or actions were unfair
- Discuss the issue with the unfairly treated employee(s) and perpetrator(s) of the treatment
- Attempt a mediation between the two parties
- Decide on disciplinary measures, if necessary, against the perpetrator
- Discuss the issue with the rest of the staff
- Re-distribute policy and procedures to remind staff
How Does Nepotism Affect the Workplace?
Is Nepotism in the Workplace Illegal?
Is Preferential Treatment in the Workplace Illegal?
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