What to Do About Favoritism at Work Towards Others in California? 2024

Frank S. Clowney III

Favoritism at work is an age-old workplace plague that has given organizations issues for many years. It occurs when one person in power gives preferential treatment to some employees over others without any logical reasoning.

An example of logical reasoning would be to award a promotion to one sales representative who reached their quota over the others who missed the mark. This would not be a disputed decision, as you can clearly lay out the expectations of their role and show how only people who reach pre-determined metrics will be granted a raise.

However, there would be a concern for favoritism if the sales rep who reached their quota did not get a raise and, instead, a different rep was promoted who missed their quota but had a close relationship with the supervisor. This is when the situation can get suspicious and be flagged as an act of favoritism over merit.

How to Address Favoritism at Work

Being able to identify and report any acts of favoritism in the workplace can have a huge influence on maintaining a positive corporate culture. When it goes unnoticed, or is purposefully allowed, it can create a toxic work environment that lowers employee morale and hurts organizational performance. Here are some ways to address the issue:

  • Establish Clear Policies and Procedures for Promotions and Hiring Practices: As an employee, you want to work for an organization that gives you clear guidelines on the expectations of your role and how you can advance professionally. As a supervisor, you want these to be established as well to protect yourself against any unfair accusations of favoritism. Being able to pull up official corporate policies and procedures that can support any decisions you make can protect reasonable behavior in the workplace while also helping to identify when an act of unfair favoritism has been committed.
  • Document the Favoritism: As soon as you notice it, document it. Write down the exact date you noticed the alleged favoritism, where it happened, who was involved, and what the exact favoritism was. Everyone investigating the case will appreciate this information to help understand if there is a pattern of suspicious behavior that is not aligned with an individual’s professional performance.
  • Express Your Concerns: Not everyone is comfortable raising their voice and accusing a colleague of acting inappropriately, but others are. It can be advantageous to address the wrongful behavior directly and confront the person in power about their actions. Everyone can be a victim of their own unconscious bias at times, and the individual might agree with what you are seeing. This could allow them to resolve the issue independently without needing to advance a legal case. However, if you do not feel comfortable doing this, it is advised that you seek help from an employment law attorney.
  • Report to HR: If you are uncomfortable speaking to the alleged person directly, you may feel more comfortable giving HR a visit. These are trained business professionals who understand that scenarios like this could arise in the workplace. They will know exactly what information to collect from you and how to advance the case. They can also keep your accusation anonymous if you prefer.


Q: How Can Favoritism Impact a Company’s Reputation?

A: Any major company needs a variety of reputation management tactics in place to keep employees satisfied with their work while also attracting new talent to the organization. When word spreads that favoritism is prevalent in an organization, and it goes unaddressed, it can have a dramatic effect on the people of the organization. You could start to see a dip in new applications for roles, or people who have traditionally outperformed in their roles begin to care less and just move through the motions, as they no longer see a viable connection between their ability to outshine in the company and being recognized for their effort.

Q: How Can Favoritism Affect the Mental Health of Current Employees?

A: Favoritism that goes unchecked can create serious psychological burdens for those who are in the unfavored pool. It can lead to different symptoms that are similar to those seen in cases of workplace bullying. For example, an employee can feel a sense of constant stress and anxiety when they are trying to perform well but are still being overlooked for either large-scale promotions or even the daily “good work” comment from a supervisor. This dramatic reduction in satisfaction with their role can even spiral to a level of depression that can lead to burnout and eventually their decision to leave the company. This is not an effective talent management strategy and can cost the company time and money in the long run.

Q: What Legal Protections Do Employees Have From Favoritism?

A: No law directly calls out favoritism by name, but that does not mean it is unaddressed by the law. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act offer protection from discrimination. These laws do not allow an employer to make personnel decisions based on protected characteristics such as someone’s race, national origin, or sexual orientation. When someone is favored in the workplace, it could be because the supervisor making those decisions is operating from their own biases and favoring someone who looks or acts like them. This is not appropriate and has the support of these laws to protect the employee.

Q: How Do You Prove Unfairness at Work?

A: Reporting the alleged incident with evidence is the most compelling way to start proving unfairness at work. This is the information that corporate leaders and attorneys will rely on to investigate the situation. They can investigate these documented accounts to see if they can find other areas within the business where this pattern exists. Drawing connections between these incidents can help make the case that favoritism was occurring. If there are any internal witnesses to the act of favoritism who agree with your accusation, you will want them to be vocal about their account of the situation as well. The more people who can speak to the same experience, the stronger the accusation will be.

Contact The Law Office of Frank S. Clowney III Today

If you are suspicious of favoritism at your workplace today, and would like to explore filing a complaint, connect with the employment law attorneys at The Law Office of Frank S. Clowney III today. We have spent years uncovering these unfair practices and supporting those who have been wronged by their employers. Let us help restore your trust and faith in the workplace. Contact us today.