Updated June 24, 2020:

Examples of Discrimination in the Workplace

Some examples of discrimination in the workplace include when an employer, supervisor, or co-worker treats another employee unfairly based on religion, age, ethnicity, gender, disability, skin color, or race. This goes beyond workplace behavior to also encompass hiring and firing practices. To get a firm grasp of what this entails, it's best to know a few examples of discrimination in the workplace. This enables employees to know their rights and employers to avoid any situations involving discrimination.

There are essentially two types of discrimination. The first type is direct liability. In this case of discrimination, an employer is actively engaged in discrimination from the top down, so much as to promote an organization of discrimination. The other type of discrimination is vicarious liability. This is when an employee discriminates against another employee, only the employer has no evidence that he or she took reasonable or necessary steps to curb the behavior.

In the American judicial system, there are several laws and government bodies that define and enforce any illegal discrimination practices. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the landmark law that states that it's illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, or national origin (protected characteristics). This covers hiring, promotion, referrals, and all other aspects of employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, enforces any infraction against this act.

In the federal government, Executive Order 11246 established nondiscriminatory hiring and work practices for government contractors. These contractors must take affirmative action to assure a nondiscriminatory workplace.

Understanding the Differences Between Discrimination, Bullying, and Harassment

One of the hardest parts of identifying discrimination is differentiating it from bullying and harassment. To understand it better to improve workplace relations, consider these definitions:

  • Discrimination occurs when someone gets subpar treatment based on one of his or her protected characteristics. This can occur even when the offending behavior isn't necessarily directed at a single person.

  • Harassment occurs when an employee endures offensive, intimidating, threatening, or humiliating actions or comments because of one of his or her protected characteristics. Sexual harassment is one branch of this, and it happens when an employee is the subject of unwelcome attention or advances of a sexual nature.

  • Bullying is a behavior that affects an employee's mental health and physical health as a result of unreasonable, repeated behavior.

What Are the Types of Discrimination in the Workplace?

As outlined in Title VII, there are numerous types of discrimination that employers and employees need to know:

  • Religious: No employer can discriminate against a person based on religious beliefs or the beliefs of a spouse. This includes organized religions or sincere spiritual beliefs. This can also mean that an employer has to accommodate the religion, as long as it doesn't interfere with company practices.

  • Age: Employers cannot treat an employee unfairly based on age. This is typically seen in older workers, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 makes it illegal to discriminate on workers over age 40.

  • Gender: Also known as sexual discrimination, this type occurs when an employer treats a person differently based on gender. This can include gaps in pay for two sexes in the same position, as well as the protection of people with gender identity issues.

  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy must be dealt with like any type of nonpermanent illness. Treating it otherwise constitutes discrimination.

  • Racial: Employers may not base decisions in the workplace or hiring process based on a person's race.

What Are Some Effects of Discrimination in the Workplace?

There is a seemingly endless number of behaviors that meet the definition of discrimination in the workplace when they're used as a result of someone's personal characteristics or an employee reporting the incident to management. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Denial of employee compensation or benefits

  • Denial of disability leave, maternity leave, or retirement options

  • Termination

  • Loss of shifts or less desirable shift

  • Suggestion of a preferred candidate on a job advertisement based on personal characteristics

  • Denial of use of company facilities or benefits

  • Favoritism when issuing promotions or company restructuring

  • Exclusion of candidates from the hiring process

  • Off-color comments or inappropriate jokes that cause stress to an employee

While these are just a few of the types of discrimination, it's also important to note that it can come in many ways. Discrimination can be indirect, direct, unintentional, or intentional.

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