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Workplace Discrimination: Tips for Employees and Employers

2022-05-30
Workplace Discrimination: Tips for Employees and Employers

No one should have to suffer from workplace discrimination. These tips can help employees and employers alike identify and combat discrimination in the workplace.

Workplace discrimination is a common issue that can have negative effects on both employees and an organization. Employees who feel discriminated against may suffer from decreased productivity, absenteeism, and increased job turnover. In addition, workplace discrimination can lead to legal troubles for an organization, including costly lawsuits and damages.

By understanding the causes and effects of workplace discrimination, organizations can take steps to prevent it from happening.

What Qualifies as Workplace Discrimination?

Workplace discrimination occurs when an individual is treated differently or less favorably because of a characteristic they possess. This can include race, gender, ability, age, whether they are pregnant, and so on. Workplace discrimination can include direct actions such as verbal abuse, but it can also be indirect, such as exclusion.

Is Workplace Discrimination Illegal?

Employment discrimination is illegal in both the United States and the United Kingdom, but it is still a huge problem within many organizations. The law protects workers against discrimination based on factors such as race, gender, religion, and disability. However, discrimination can be difficult to prove, and many employers are able to get away with it.

What Are the Types of Discrimination in the Workplace?

Workplace discrimination can take many forms, ranging from overt hostility to more subtle forms of bias. In some cases, it may be motivated by an individual's personal prejudices. In other cases, it may be the result of institutional factors, such as a company's hiring practices or promotion policies. Regardless of its cause, discrimination can have a negative impact on both individuals and organizations. Here are a few types of discrimination a person can face at work:

  • Age discrimination (ageism). Ageism in the workplace is a form of discrimination that can target job applicants and employees of all ages. Ageism often manifests as stereotypes or assumptions about an individual's abilities, based on their age. Unfortunately, ageism is a prevalent issue in many industries, and it can make it difficult for job seekers to find work and for older workers to keep their jobs.
  • Sexism. Sexual discrimination in the workplace is unfair treatment of employees based on their gender. This can include sexual harassment, unequal pay, or being passed over for promotions. While it is illegal in many countries, sexism is still a problem in many workplaces.
  • Gender discrimination. Gender discrimination is based on a person's gender identity, which may or may not align with their biological sex. For instance, a transgender woman who is denied a job because she does not conform to traditional ideas about gender would be the victim of gender discrimination, rather than sexism.
  • Pregnancy discrimination. Pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination that occurs when women are treated differently because of their pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions. The US Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 prohibits pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. Despite these protections, pregnancy discrimination is still a pervasive problem.
  • Parental status discrimination. Parental status discrimination is the discriminatory practice of treating an employee or applicant unfavorably because they are a parent. This type of discrimination can take many forms, from denial of benefits to unequal pay or being passed over for promotions. Parental status discrimination is illegal in many countries, but unfortunately, it still occurs.
  • Social class discrimination. Social class discrimination is the act of discriminating against someone based on their social class. This can be done in a number of ways, such as making assumptions about someone's intelligence or abilities based on their social class, or treating someone differently because of their social class.
  • Disability discrimination. Disability discrimination is a type of discrimination that occurs when an individual is treated less favorably than others or excluded because of a disability. This includes instances when a workplace does not make necessary changes to increase accessibility for disabled workers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits disability discrimination in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and housing.
  • Body shaming. Body shaming is when someone is ridiculed or made to feel inferior because of their weight, height, skin color, or any other physical attribute. Sadly, this type of discrimination is all too common, and it can have a devastating effect on someone's self-esteem.
  • Religious discrimination. Religious discrimination can create a hostile work environment for employees of all faiths. Unfortunately, it is all too common for employees to be subjected to comments or actions that are discriminatory against their religion. This can include being harassed by co-workers, being denied opportunities for advancement, or being treated differently than other employees.
  • Racial discrimination. Discrimination against an employee at work because of their race is a huge problem in many countries. Unlawful discrimination in the workplace can take many different forms, from direct acts of racism by an employer or co-worker, to workplace cultures that discourage or limit the career progression of people from racial minorities.
  • Sexual orientation discrimination. Despite laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace, many people still face discrimination based on their sexual orientation. This can take a number of forms, from overt hostility and harassment to more subtle forms of bias. For example, an employer may be less likely to promote a gay employee or may give them less favorable assignments.
  • National origin/Cultural discrimination. National origin discrimination in the workplace is a form of employment discrimination that occurs when an employer treats an employee or job applicant unfavorably because of the employee's national origin. Discrimination based on national origin is also prohibited by some national laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Forms of Discrimination in the Workplace

Discrimination in the workplace can take a variety of different forms. Sometimes it is overt and direct, such as discriminatory hiring decisions. Other times, it is more subtle and indirect, such as when an employer sets different standards for employees from different backgrounds. Here are a few terms to

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  • Direct discrimination. Direct discrimination is when someone is treated less favorably than another person because of a protected characteristic, such as race, gender, disability, or age.
  • Indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination is when there are policies or practices in place that seem neutral but have a disproportionately negative effect on people with a protected characteristic. For example, not making an office space wheelchair accessible.
  • Harassment. Harassment is when someone is subjected to unwelcome comments or behavior that is related to their protected characteristic and makes them feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. This can include things like offensive jokes, name-calling, or physical assaults.
  • Victimization. Victimization is when someone is treated badly because they have made or supported a complaint of discrimination. This type of employment discrimination is also known as retaliation.
  • Intentional discrimination. Intentional workplace discrimination is when someone is treated unfairly at work because of their protected characteristic, such as their race, gender, or religion. This type of discrimination is against the law and can result in severe penalties for the person or company responsible.
  • Unintentional discrimination. Unintentional discrimination is when a company has policies or practices that negatively impact certain groups of people, even though there was no intent to discriminate. For example, having strict policies around taking sick leave can discriminate against those with health conditions.
  • Systematic discrimination. Systematic discrimination is where people from a particular group are consistently treated unfairly or excluded from opportunities. This can happen because of the way an organization is structured, or because of the attitudes and beliefs of those in positions of power.
  • Reverse discrimination. Reverse discrimination is when someone from a majority group is treated less favorably than a person from a minority group. This can happen when an affirmative action program is in place that prohibits discrimination against minority groups. For example, if a company only hires women for a certain role, this could be seen as reverse discrimination against men.

Who Is Affected Most by Workplace Discrimination?

Not all employment discrimination occurs equally, with some attributes being much more heavily targeted in the average workplace.

The Equal employment opportunity commission reported the following breakdown of the charges of workplace discrimination that were received by the agency in the fiscal year 2019. Evidently, in the US, retaliation is the most common cause of workplace discrimination, taking up over 50% of filed cases. This is followed by disability, race, and sex.

  • Retaliation: 39,110 (53.8% of all charges filed)
  • Sex: 23,532 (32.4%)
  • Race: 23,976 (33%)
  • Disability: 24,238 (33.4%)
  • Age: 15,573 (21.4%)
  • National Origin: 7,009 (9.6%)
  • Color: 3,415 (4.7%)
  • Religion: 2,725 (3.7%)
  • Equal Pay Act: 1,117 (1.5%)
  • Genetic Information: 209 (0.3%)

However, within the UK, the most common discrimination cases to come to the tribunal were regarding the equal pay act, which were 62% of all cases. This was followed by age discrimination (11.8%) and disability (9.6%).

As these sets of results are in such stark contrast, we should take into consideration the fact that these data consist of reported discriminatory practices. Therefore, they do not reflect the full picture of employment discrimination.

Effects of Discrimination in the Workplace

Discrimination can have a profound effect on individuals, families, and communities. Within the workplace, discrimination is a serious issue that can have a negative effect on employees and employers alike. According to state and federal laws, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age.

  • Decreased job satisfaction. Unlawful discrimination can affect the way an employee views their role and their organisation. An unfair work climate decreases employee involvement and satisfaction.
  • Mental and physical health. Of course, when employees are being treated unfairly, this is likely to have ill effects on both their minds and bodies. For example, studies have shown that race discrimination is associated with higher stress, increasing a person's likelihood of developing high blood pressure, inflammation, and heart disease.
  • Low workplace morale. An unfair or discriminatory workplace discourages employees from taking pride and joy in their work. This has a contagious effect on the whole team, resulting in low morale in places where there are unlawful discriminatory practices.
  • Legal action. Employment discrimination is not only immoral, but nowadays, something that is often fought against legally. Workplaces that are guilty of unfair treatment can be appealed against, resulting in financial losses. There are now many state and federal laws in place to protect citizens, including the disabilities act, equal pay act, and civil rights act.
  • Damaged company image. Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms, but it always damages the company's image. When potential investors see that the company allows unlawful discrimination, they are less likely to invest. Job applicants may also be discouraged from applying if they believe they will be treated unfairly.
  • Higher Turnover. In addition, employees who feel discriminated against are more likely to leave the company, which can lead to high turnover rates and increased training costs.

Examples of Discrimination in the Workplace

Unlawful employment discrimination is very overt in some cased, but in others, it takes the form of unfair procedures that are sometimes created naively. Here are some examples of ways a workplace can be getting things wrong:

Refusing to Acknowledge a Person's Gender Identity

When a manager refuses to acknowledge a person's gender identity at work, this is a form of discrimination. In some workplaces, trans workers are subjected to humiliation by being refused access to bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity, and sometimes are subjected to more intimidating forms of workplace harassment such as name-calling. This can create a hostile work environment and lead to lower job satisfaction and productivity. In some cases, it may even lead to legal action.

The best way to avoid such problems is to be respectful of all employees' gender identities and to use the pronouns that they prefer. If you are unsure of someone's preferred pronouns, simply ask them. By taking these steps, you can create a more inclusive workplace where everyone feels respected.

Refusing Adequate Working Conditions for a Pregnant Person.

For pregnant people, certain health and safety procedures need to be in place for them to work safely. One example of a lack of adequate care is for a workplace to refuse a pregnant person to take regular toilet breaks. This can have a negative impact on their health as pregnancy increases the need to take such breaks.

In the UK, an employment act known as the HSWA places responsibility on employers to care for the health and safety of workers. In the US, a federal law called The Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids any form of workplace discrimination against those who are pregnant.

Unnecessary Academic Job Requirements

When a workplace expects candidates to have a degree or higher in order to gain employment, despite it not being necessary to carry out the role, this constitutes discrimination. For example, a marketing agency might refuse applicants who have intern experience but no formal qualification in marketing. This discriminates against people who have less access to higher education, such as disabled people, working-class people, and people of color. It can also count as age discrimination as it puts up a barrier against younger people gaining employment.

How Can You Identify Discrimination in the Workplace?

Identifying unlawful employment discrimination is the first step toward making things right. Anyone can help with this process, even if they are not from a protected class or a manager. Here are some simple ways to examine a workplace for possible discrimination:

  • Listen. One way is to pay attention to the language that is used by managers and co-workers. If certain groups of people are consistently referred to in negative or derogatory terms, it may be indicative of a discriminatory attitude.
  • Observe. Another way to identify discrimination is to look at patterns of decision-making. For example, if employees from certain backgrounds are consistently passed over for promotions or raises, while others with less experience are given preferential treatment, this may be evidence of discrimination.
  • Check the team. Employees can also look at the overall atmosphere of the workplace. If there is a hostile or tense feeling among workers of different groups, it may be due to discriminatory attitudes or practices.
  • Data. For managers or HR staff, data systems can give valuable insight into how well a company is caring for diverse employees. Software to track wellbeing can be great to survey how the team is feeling from day to day, whereas data around employee turnover can give insights into hiring and retainment practices.

Solutions to Workplace Discrimination

While certain types of discrimination can be difficult to spot, there are a few solutions that can help to address the issue:

  • Education. A workplace can commit to educating leaders and staff about workplace discrimination issues. This can include topics such as sexual harassment, racial equality, and how to accommodate a colleague with a mental disability. Employees can also be educated on identifying discrimination and how best to come forward.
  • Diversity. In many cases, discrimination arises from a lack of awareness or a lack of contact with the protected group. By creating a diverse workforce and ensuring that diverse colleagues get into leadership positions as well, employees get a chance to develop personal bonds with people from different groups, reducing prejudice. Also, having a varied team means that those who are diverse do not feel like an outlier in the team.
  • A chance to speak up. As retaliation is the #1 form of reported workplace discrimination in the US, it is imperative that a workplace allows for employees to speak their minds without feeling endangered. This can be achieved through several means, including fostering a more open culture where criticism is not presented as dangerous. Another way is for each team to have an anonymous platform to share their concerns. This way, the chances of being targeted for retaliation are minimised.

How Do Managers Deal with Discrimination in the Workplace?

Managers get to see their team from an outside view, noticing who feels motivated and who is progressing well within their roles. Here are some ways managers can use their position to create fairer employment practices:

  • Create/enforce an anti-discrimination policy. In today's business world, managers must be proactive in creating and enforcing an anti-discrimination policy. It is essential that companies have a clear policy in place that outlines what is considered to be discrimination. This policy should be communicated to all employees, and managers should make it clear that any form of discrimination will not be tolerated. Furthermore, managers should provide employees with a mechanism for reporting any incidents of discrimination. By taking these steps, managers can help to create a workplace that is free from discrimination.
  • Anti-biased hiring practices. Some anti-biased hiring practices include ensuring that there is a panel of people making hiring decisions, rather than one individual; that all members of the panel have undergone anti-bias training; and that applications are reviewed without names or other identifying characteristics. Additionally, when considering candidates with international credentials, it is important to take the time to understand the value of those credentials and how they can contribute to a company's success.
  • Respond to complaints professionally. Managers play an important role in ensuring that their workplace is free from discrimination. If an employee raises a complaint about discrimination, it is crucial that the manager deals with the issue promptly and confidentially. This will help to ensure that the employee feels comfortable coming forward with their concerns, and it will also send a clear message that discrimination will not be tolerated in the workplace. In addition, dealing with complaints quickly and discreetly can help to prevent them from escalating into larger problems. By taking these steps, managers can create a more inclusive workplace for everyone.

How Should HR Handle Discrimination?

Just like managers, HR staff get an external view of how staff are feeling and operating within a company. This can help maintain anti-discrimination practices as HR staff can take an unbiased approach to hiring practices as well as maintaining staff wellbeing. Here are some things HR staff can do to help with these processes:

  • Equal opportunities in hiring. As the first point of contact for many job seekers, HR staff play an important role in promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace. One way to do this is to make a clear anti-discrimination statement within all job ads. This helps to ensure that all candidates feel welcome and respected and that they know that the company is committed to equal opportunity. Additionally, it is important to ensure that the application process is accessible to all potential candidates. This includes providing clear instructions and clearly stating that those with accessibility needs can come forward if they require any reasonable accommodation in the interviewing process.
  • Make training and promotion accessible. As the workforce continues to become more diverse, it is essential for HR to ensure that training and promotion processes are accessible to all employees. One way to do this is to provide employees with clear information about what is required for each position. Employees should also be given ample opportunity to complete any necessary training. In addition, HR should avoid making assumptions about an employee's qualifications or abilities. Instead, they should provide employees with the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.
  • Anti-retaliation program. HR staff play an important role in ensuring that all employment actions within a company are conducted fairly. One way they can do this is by building an anti-retaliation program. For example, requiring managers to provide detailed reasons for choosing one employee for promotion. This ensures that there is a clear rationale for the decision and that it is not based on discriminatory factors. Additionally, the HR staff can provide training for managers on how to identify and avoid retaliation in the workplace. By taking these steps, the HR staff can help create a fair and equitable workplace for all employees.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Hard to Prove Discrimination at Work?

This depends upon the type of discrimination you have experienced, but for overt cases such as denial of promotion, there are simple ways to compile evidence for a case.

In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age. If you have been subjected to discrimination, you can file a charge with the EEOC. The EEOC will then investigate your claim and determine whether there is enough evidence to take further action.

In the United Kingdom, the Equality Act 2010 also prohibits discrimination in the workplace. If you believe that you have been subjected to discrimination, you can make a complaint to your employer or contact an equalities organization for advice and assistance. Taking action against discrimination can help to ensure that everyone is treated fairly in the workplace.

What Should You Do in Case of Discrimination in the Workplace?

First of all, try and gather evidence where possible. If you have any evidence in writing, e.g. emails, this helps substantially. Alternatively, note whether there were any witnesses that could back up your case. In some cases, it can be helpful to consult a lawyer at this stage to ensure you have legal guidance throughout the process.

Be sure to note down everything that occurs surrounding the discriminatory practices, even if there is no evidence. This will be helpful when communicating your complaint. It should include any statements or decisions the offending party made regarding your protected characteristic, as well as the outcomes of these actions.

Finally, you should then consult official bodies such as your HR department or legal entities outside of your workplace. The decision of how officially to make the complaint depends upon the severity of the discriminatory act as well as how receptive you feel your employer is to complaints of such a nature. If you feel unsafe consulting members of the same workplace, there are plenty of external governing bodies that can guide you through filing discrimination claims.

Is Favoritism in the Workplace a Form of Discrimination?

Favoritism can be a form of unlawful discrimination in cases when the favoritism is based on protected characteristics such as race, sexual orientation or gender identity. If a person believes there is favoritism in their workplace based on discriminatory attitudes, they may have grounds for legal action.

How Do You Defend Yourself against Discrimination in the Workplace?

Knowing your rights is the first step in protecting yourself from discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination in the workplace is a serious problem, but thankfully there is state and federal law in place to protect employees from being treated unfairly. In the US, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Knowing your rights and resources can help you defend yourself in such cases.

Is Discrimination in the Workplace Unethical?

Sadly, many employers are still unaware of how unethical all forms of discrimination are. By educating ourselves on these issues, as well as knowing the correct procedures to take against unlawful employment practice, we can push toward a safer and more joyful work environment.