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Managing employee interactions in the workplace can be tricky. Especially in today's workforce, with all the varied backgrounds and perspectives workers bring to bear, it can be difficult to foster an environment that is free of bias and discrimination.

Thankfully, the past few decades have seen great strides in HR solutions that have created diversity initiatives for all sorts of marginalized groups, including women, people of color, transgender individuals and employees in same-sex unions. But as new laws are enacted and old ones are amended, it can be tough to sort out what constitutes discrimination versus what may just be common sense.

Women are still facing issues
Women are among one of the groups of people that have received the most attention when it comes to large-scale diversity efforts. Indeed, you may be tempted to compare the professional situation of women today with that of 50 years ago and observe that huge strides have been made. But despite these undeniable positive changes, there are still many hurdles yet to overcome.

According to some experts, much of the bias women and other groups face isn't even explicit, but rather is the result of unconscious cognitive programming that influences decisions in ways we don't even realize. One such manifestation of this is the so-called Google bias. This involves Google's user-tracking analytics presenting more high-paying executive ad postings for male searchers than for female, the Society for Human Resource Management noted.

The boundaries of discrimination
While examples such as the Google bias cited above are clear cases of discrimination, there are other instances from the employment world where workers have attempted to use similar reasoning to go against a company's best interests.

One significant example of this involves unionized worksite employees contracted by phone company AT&T. Human Resource Executive Online reported that these workers sued the company for discrimination after they were told they couldn't wear T-shirts that read "Inmate: Prisoner of AT$T" when visiting clients' homes. While the initial court decision ruled in favor of the union employees, an appeals court overturned the ruling. 

"It was reasonable for AT&T to believe that the Inmate/Prisoner shirts may harm AT&T's relationships with its customers or its public image," the decision stated.

Fortunately, distinguishing discrimination from protecting your company's interests doesn't have to involve litigation. PEO companies can provide expert HR services for small- and medium-sized businesses.