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Workplace Discrimination

Workplace Discrimination: Examples, Laws, and Consequences


Workplace discrimination is a prevalent problem in every other organization but is least reported because employers are mostly involved in this practice. The main aim is to sideline a particular segment of society from the mainstream lane of progression since the world is globalized now. Hence, the workplace consists of a diverse workforce fostering workplace diversity.  But employers usually use such a workplace culture to discriminate against individuals of protected category because of their misconduct at a personal level, decisions against their interest that can be one or more than one, or pushing them into disparate conditions by creating systemic problems for them.

This article will discuss workplace discrimination definition, workplace discrimination example, workplace discrimination and harassment, causes of workplace discrimination, workplace discrimination laws, types of workplace discrimination, and consequences of workplace discrimination.

Key Takeaways

  • Workplace discrimination often targets age, religion, race, disability, and gender.
  • Legal protections include EEOC laws and anti-discriminatory regulations.
  • Discrimination examples include unfair treatment based on protected categories.
  • Causes include prejudice, stereotyping, and workplace culture.
  • Discrimination impacts individual health and organizational performance.

Workplace Discrimination Definition

The workplace discrimination definition, taken from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), states that an employee is said to be discriminated against if he is treated differently at a workplace as compared to others. It is mostly a less favored treatment and can be because of many reasons. A few reasons to discriminate one employee from others can include age, national origin, religion, race, disability, genetic information, color, or sexual orientation. These types are further discussed in the article in detail. Discrimination can occur at any place be it your workplace, school, or any public area. Co-workers, school friends, coaches, managers, teachers, or business owners can discriminate against you from others.

Workplace Discrimination Example

Many workplace discrimination examples are reported on a global scale. A few widely quoted are discussed below:

One of the common workplace discrimination examples is of Meseret Kumulchew who faced workplace discrimination based on mental health. She was discriminated against at Starbucks because of her dyslexia. She was accused of deceit by fabricating documents. She was a female barista in London but the work environment was not flexible enough to cater to workplace diversity.

Another example of workplace discrimination is of Cheryl Spragg who was an employee at Richemont in the United Kingdom. But she also had to witness workplace discrimination based on color. Her dark color isolated her in the workplace and other than bullying she was also being spied on by a team.

An example of workplace discrimination based on age is of Eilsen Jolly who was an NHS secretary. This 89-year-old woman won an age discrimination claim as the oldest person in the United Kingdom. Her company fired her because they considered her to be outdated and did not know the use of modern technology.

Another workplace discrimination example is Lisa Coffey who was in the police force. This is workplace discrimination based on disability, particularly hearing loss due to which she was denied transfer although she maintained transparency in the beginning about her medical condition.

Workplace discrimination and harassment

Workplace discrimination and harassment are not two distinct concepts but they are inter-linked. In fact, workplace harassment is considered a practice of workplace discrimination. It is an undesirable gesture against any employee if he belongs to the legally protected category, however, workplace discrimination can also include any unfavorable action outside this category. The intention behind harassment is usually the creation of a hostile work environment for an employee or for a constraining environment to make his job tough and he may resign in reaction to abusive and intimidating workplace settings.

Causes of workplace discrimination

The causes of workplace discrimination range on a broader scale and vary in their intensity and environment. Prejudice is one such cause which can be defined as an irrational preference or dislike based on the perceived group membership for a group or person. The most subtle cause of workplace discrimination is individual and societal biases as it has unintentional nature.

Stereotyping is another cause of workplace discrimination which is the common assumption regarding the traits and actions of a specific group.  These stereotypes can be based on perceived group identity including gender, race, religion, age, or disability leading to unfair treatment.

Another important factor in play here is organizational culture. A positive workplace culture usually promotes work productivity by supporting collaboration in workplace diversity. However, some workplace cultures also support exclusivity, underpin stereotypes, tolerate biases, or discourage reporting, thereby contributing to discrimination. Lack of awareness in inclusivity and diversity is another crucial cause of workplace discrimination which itself is a result of lack of education.

Workplace discrimination laws

Workplace discrimination is subjected to legal actions but the legality of it differs from state to state. EEOC has enforced a few laws in the United States to protect employees from workplace discrimination. These workplace discrimination laws become applicable when they include any of the following:

  1. Workplace discrimination based on religion or disability when an employee is refused necessary accommodation at the workplace.
  2. Retaliation at the workplace in response to your complaint against workplace discrimination or your assistance with proceedings of workplace discrimination cases like lawsuits or investigations.
  3. Workplace discrimination is based on your national origin, race, disability, color, age, religion, genetic information, or sex when an employee is harassed by a co-worker, manager, or any other person from the workplace.
  4. Disclosure or asking inappropriate questions about your medical information, especially genetic information.
  5. Workplace discrimination is based on your national origin, race, disability, color, age, religion, genetic information, or sex when an employee is treated unfairly.

Along with EEOC, many other laws are also regulating workplace discrimination. For instance, the Equality Act 2010 obliges organizations to practice fair treatment for all employees at the workplace. Likewise, Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) considers discrimination of an employee against others as an “unlawful employment practice”. The discrimination can be based on any element of “legally protected categories” which includes: gender identity, color, age, disability, ancestry, health insurance coverage status, crime victim status, HIV positive status, religion, place of birth, sex, race, national origin, sexual orientation or inclusion in legally protected category listed before.

Unlawful Discriminatory Practices

Workplace discrimination is not only common for hired employees already serving the company in its best interest but many other people associated with a workplace are also not protected. According to the above-mentioned anti-discriminatory laws, unfair treatment of individuals included in any of the legally protected categories at any phase of employment is prohibited. These phases include recruitment stages, job ads, hiring process, interviews, applications, background checks, apprenticeships, assignments, referrals, training, performance management, discharge, promotion, discipline, benefits, terms and conditions of employment, pay, or accommodation requests.

Types of Workplace Discrimination

Workplace discrimination can be intentional or intentional but the law recognizes both of them.

  1. The first category that is intentional discrimination is the one in which decisions are influenced by:
  • Existence of prejudice in clients, coworkers, or customers.
  • Existence of stereotypes based on legally protected categories of a person about his abilities, traits, skills, or personality.
  • Existence of animosity based on legally protected categories towards a person.
  1. The second category that is unintentional discrimination is the one in which decisions are influenced by:
  • Unconscious biases
  • Microaggressions
  • Unconsciously held stereotypes

Types of workplace culture include the variance in the general characteristics of a person or group on which he is being excluded from the mainstream. A few of these types include:

  • Workplace discrimination based on gender
  • Workplace discrimination based on age
  • Workplace discrimination based on disability
  • Workplace discrimination based on race
  • Workplace discrimination based on religion
  • Workplace discrimination based on mental health
  • Workplace discrimination based on appearance
  • Workplace discrimination due to pregnancy
  • Workplace discrimination due to illness

Consequences of Workplace Discrimination

A workplace that fosters an environment of discrimination pushes the entire surroundings to bear the consequences of workplace discrimination. Workplace discrimination impacts individuals, the workplace, and the indicators of the overall productivity and success of an organization. These effects of workplace discrimination are pervasive and multifaceted.

An individual is an asset to any organization but facing discrimination can impact him mentally, emotionally, and physically. Mentally he can face issues like depression, anxiety, and stress. These can further lead to physical health issues including cardiac issues, hypertension, and a decline in the overall health of an employee. These things, with the passage of time, lower self-esteem and increase job dissatisfaction of a person which can result in high employee turnover.

At an organizational level, workplace discrimination can result in a negative workplace culture. The high turnover ratio can ultimately lead to worse work performance where new hires also lose interest and confidence in the company. The company not only loses its reputation but also business relationships are impacted and clients and customers build negative perceptions about the organization.


This article has focused on workplace discrimination, though often unreported, as a significant issue affecting various protected categories. Discrimination can stem from individual biases, systemic issues, or cultural factors within an organization. Legal frameworks like those from the EEOC and other anti-discriminatory laws aim to protect employees and ensure fair treatment. The consequences of discrimination are far-reaching, affecting individuals’ well-being and organizational success. By understanding and addressing these issues, workplaces can foster a more inclusive, productive, and positive environment.

Frequently Asked Questions About Workplace Discrimination

  • How can I identify if I’m experiencing workplace discrimination?

You can identify workplace discrimination by signs that include being overlooked for promotions, receiving unfair treatment, hostile behavior from colleagues or supervisors, or facing retaliation after complaining about discrimination.

  • What constitutes workplace discrimination?

Workplace discrimination occurs when an employee is treated less favorably than others due to characteristics such as age, race, religion, disability, gender, or any other listed in a legally protected category.

  • What should I do if I experience workplace discrimination?

Document incidents, report to HR, and consider filing a complaint with the EEOC or relevant legal body in your state.

  • Are there laws protecting against workplace discrimination?

Yes, laws like those enforced by the EEOC, the Equality Act 2010, and Vermont’s FEPA protect employees from discrimination. However, other states have their own laws based on their society.

  • Can workplace discrimination include harassment?

Yes, harassment is a form of discrimination that creates a hostile or offensive work environment.

  • What are some examples of workplace discrimination?

Examples include being denied accommodations for disabilities, facing racial or gender-based discrimination, and experiencing age-related biases. Any act that seems unfavorable to a person or group against their protected rights is an example of workplace discrimination.

  • What are the consequences for individuals facing workplace discrimination?

Affected individuals may experience mental health issues, physical health problems, low self-esteem, and job dissatisfaction.

  • What is unintentional discrimination?

Unintentional discrimination includes actions influenced by unconscious biases, stereotypes, or microaggressions.

  • How does workplace discrimination affect organizations?

Workplace discrimination affects organizations by high employee turnover, decreased productivity and work performance, negative workplace culture, and damage to the company’s reputation.

  • How can organizations prevent workplace discrimination?

Organizations can implement diversity training, establish clear anti-discrimination policies, encourage reporting, and promote an inclusive workplace culture to prevent workplace discrimination.


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