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  • Writer's pictureRussell Lookadoo

Respect or Discrimination?

Updated: May 10, 2018

In 1967, the great R&B performer Aretha Franklin released her signature song, “Respect” in which she demanded respect for her abilities and contribution in relationships. In the workplace respect is at the core of a mutually beneficial employer/employee relationship. If the principle of respect was followed, there would be no need for any anti-discriminatory laws. How?

This year many state legislatures invested a considerable amount of time hammering out a new law banning sexual orientation and freedom of religious expression. The law, which applies to almost all companies with 15 or more employees, bans discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law also crafted a balance to protect an employee’s right to express their religious or moral beliefs and commitment in the workplace.

Discrimination is the unequal treatment of people based on identifiable characteristics.

The new law extends existing protections that are in place regarding discrimination based on sex, race, age, national origin, veterans’ status, disability and pregnancy. The enforcement provisions and processes are the same for these new projections.

What does this have to do with respect? If true interpersonal respect was the basis of decisions to hire, compensate, promote or assign work, there would be no need for this type of legislation. Assignments based on abilities, qualities and contribution alone would preclude any intent to discriminate.

Several years ago, I attended training on workplace HIV exposure while working with a grocery store chain. The training covered the only three ways the virus can be transmitted: unprotected sex, drug use and exchange of bodily fluids. The training made a very profound point: none of these three things should happen in our company’s workplace. The same is true for the issues covered in this recent law. Any talk about sexual orientation and identity or regarding religious and moral expression should not be happening in the workplace. These topics are not business essential and are a distraction.

Economically, discrimination is irrational. Putting the respect principle aside, when purchasing a commodity or service the price should be set by the classic forces of supply and demand. When bias or dissemination alters these fundamental forces the buyer will pay more for goods of the same value, or pay the same for inferior goods. The seller likewise will not receive a full return on investment. Discrimination is a waste of economic resources.

In Utah the new law also protects the essential-business related interests of the employer. For example, churches and the Boy Scouts are excluded from the law. The expression of religious and moral beliefs must be reasonable and non-disruptive and occur in a non-harassing way. Harassment and disruption are manifestations of disrespect. Rudeness, incivility, contempt and scorn impair a business’s ability to operate. The loss of productivity in a workplace environment that allows disrespectful behavior should be motivation enough to enforce this type of culture.

Rational, economic information regarding the abilities, qualities, and contribution of employees should be foremost factors in the decisions of the company. Business leaders should serve as an example of respect and insist that their business operate with respect as a principle. Why should we need a law requiring respect in the workplace? Respect makes economic sense and it is the right thing to do.

Russell Lookadoo is the HR guy for small business. As president and chief strategist for HRchitecture®, he works with business leaders so they accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings over thirty years of experience designing and implementing performance management, motivational and rewards solutions that achieve business strategies in organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the second largest bank in America. He holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations.

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