Tips for dealing with discrimination at work

Last updated: June 17, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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Tips for dealing with discrimination at work
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There are many reasons people are discriminated against in the workplace. From sexism to racism and everything in between, discrimination is everywhere — and it's never okay.

Thankfully, there are ways you can deal with it.

In this article, we'll discuss the different types of discrimination and give you some helpful tips on dealing with unlawful discrimination at work.

What’s workplace discrimination?

Workplace discrimination is when an employer or coworker treats you unfairly because of who you are.

This can include race, religion, or disability, among many other characteristics and traits. It's important to remember that discrimination can happen to anyone, even if you don't think you're part of a protected class. Nearly 30% of people have experienced abusive conduct in the workplace.

If you're facing discrimination in the workplace, it's important to keep track of what's happening. Write down dates, times, locations, and any other relevant details about each incident. This is helpful if you decide to take legal action or file a complaint about what’s happening.

In the United States, there are federal laws that prevent employers from discriminating against "protected traits," which include:

  • Race

  • Age

  • Ethnicity

  • Gender identity

  • Sexual orientation

  • National origin

  • Religious beliefs

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Many people believe that unfair discrimination only happens between an employer and an employee, but that's not always the case. Workplace discrimination can also happen between coworkers. For example, if you're treated differently by a fellow employee because of your age or gender, that's discrimination.

While there are laws that protect employees from unfair discrimination, this article isn’t a replacement for legal advice. If you feel you are facing workplace discrimination and need help navigating the situation, please consult an attorney.

Harassment vs. discrimination

There are numerous types of discrimination in the workplace, and one of the most common is harassment. Harassment is unwanted behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Common harassment tactics can include:

  • Offensive jokes

  • Slurs

  • Name-calling

  • Physical attacks

  • Unwanted sexual advances

  • Cyberbullying

  • Psychological tactics

While harassment is a type of discrimination, it's important to note that not all discrimination is harassment. Discrimination can be treating someone unfairly because of their race, religion, or gender identity, for example, but that doesn't always mean the person is being harassed.

Common discrimination tactics include:

  • Being denied a pay raise

  • Receiving fewer hours

  • Being terminated

  • Receiving less pay

The main differences between harassment and discrimination in the workplace include:

  • Harassment can happen to anyone, while discrimination is typically based on protected traits.

  • Harassment is always unwanted or unwelcome, while discrimination can sometimes be subtle.

  • Harassment always makes the victim feel threatened or unsafe, while discrimination does not necessarily have this effect.

Sexual harassment is the most prominent type of workplace harassment, with 1 in 7 women being forced to leave a job due to this. For example, if you're constantly being asked for inappropriate favors or subjected to unwelcome sexual comments, that's sexual harassment and can cause women to leave their jobs in fear.

Sexual harassment can happen to a person of any gender and can lead to mental anguish, anxiety, and fear of retaliation. It's important to remember that it is never your fault if you're being harassed and that you have the right to speak up.

It can be challenging to handle sexual harassment scenarios, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and end unfair treatment in the workplace.

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If you're struggling to tell the difference between discrimination and harassment, ask yourself if the behavior is making you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. If the answer is yes, you could be dealing with verbal harassment.

Reach out to someone you trust for support and advice on handling the situation, or consult an attorney to discuss your legal options and how to best protect yourself in the workplace.

Intentional vs. unintentional discrimination

Another gray area when it comes to workplace discrimination is intentional and unintentional discrimination. These two types of discrimination can be difficult to distinguish.

Intentional discrimination is when someone treats you unfairly because of a protected characteristic like your race or religion. There is an element of intent with this type of discrimination, meaning the person discriminating against you is doing so on purpose.

Unintentional discrimination is also when someone treats you unfairly, but there's no malicious intent involved. This can happen when someone makes a decision based on assumptions or stereotypes about an individual person or certain group of people.

While unintentional discrimination can have the same effects as intentional discrimination, the two differ in that the term intentional suggests poor moral choices fueled the act. These choices might be based on racism, sexism, homophobia, or other prejudices.

For example, if you're passed over for a promotion because your boss assumes you cannot handle the extra responsibility, that's unintentional discrimination. But if you're passed over for a promotion because your boss doesn't think women are as capable as men, that's intentional discrimination.

Another example is if you are demoted because of your race, that's intentional discrimination. If your boss demotes you because of a new company policy that requires all employees to have a college degree, that's unintentional discrimination.

LGBTQ workers are often discriminated against for gender expressions, such as their clothing choices or style. In the workplace, unintentional discrimination toward LGBTQ employees may be something like enforcing a dress or hair policy that is restrictive.

Members of this community found that they faced the most discrimination in the workplace, only second to public spaces overall.

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Intentional discrimination is always illegal, while unintentional discrimination is not necessarily against the law. However, both types of discrimination can harm your career and well-being, so it's important to be aware of the signs.

A legal professional can help you determine if you've been the victim of discrimination and advise you on how to protect your rights.

Tips for dealing with discrimination at work

It can be hard to know the best ways to deal with discrimination in the workplace. Many employees fear retaliation or do not want to draw attention to themselves.

A staggering 40% of employees reported they didn’t even know what to expect during the process. Still, you should always report the discrimination to an HR professional or at the nearest Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office if you are dealing with an aggressive work environment.

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Here are some tips for dealing with discrimination at work:

1. Keep a record of any discriminatory behavior

One of the most important things you can do if you're being discriminated against at work is to document the behavior. Write down dates, times, and witnesses to the incidents and how the discrimination made you feel.

Sometimes, writing down what happened can help you see the situation more clearly and make a decision about how to proceed.

2. Follow the set chain of commands

If you're being discriminated against, it's important to follow your company's established procedures for reporting the behavior. This may mean going to your immediate supervisor, HR department, or even the EEOC.

By following the proper channels, you'll have a better chance of getting the results you want and may find the process less daunting.

3. Be aware of the signs of discrimination

There are several types of discrimination, and it's important to be able to recognize them in the workplace.

Common signs include being treated differently from other employees, being passed over for promotions or raises, or being demoted without cause. If you notice any of these things happening to you, it's important to take note and consult with an HR professional or attorney.

4. Don't let discrimination define you

It's important to remember that discrimination is not a reflection of your worth as a person.

There’s no excuse for someone to be treated unfairly because of their race, gender, religion, or any other characteristic. If you're facing discrimination at work, know that it doesn't define you and that you have the power to take action.

If you're not sure how to deal with discrimination in the workplace, seek out the advice of a legal professional. An experienced attorney can help you understand your rights and will work with you to create a plan for how to best deal with the situation.

If you witness someone else being discriminated against, speak up! Use your voice to support your coworker and let them know they're not alone. You could be the one to make a difference in their life and help put an end to discrimination in the workplace.

Most common types of workplace discrimination

There are numerous types of workplace discrimination, but some are more common than others. Here are a few of the most frequently reported types of discrimination:

1. Retaliation

Retaliation is when an employer takes intentional action against an employee for reporting discrimination. This can include firing, demotion, or lowered pay.

Nearly 55.8% of all charges filed in 2020 were for retaliation, making it one of the most common types of discrimination reported.

2. Disability

Disability discrimination occurs when an employer takes negative action against an employee because of their disability.

This can include not hiring someone because they have a disability or firing them after they've been diagnosed with a condition. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects employees from unfair treatment based on their disability.

3. Race/color

Another common type of discrimination is based on race or color. This can include offensive comments or jokes, segregated work areas, or unequal pay.

Employers are not allowed to discriminate against their staff or clients based on their race or color.

4. Ageism

Age discrimination is when an employer mistreats an employee because of their age. This can include not hiring someone because they're over the age of 40 or giving them different assignments or duties because of their age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is designed to protect employees from discrimination based on their age.

5. Sex/gender

Sex or gender discrimination is when an employer takes negative action against an employee because of their sex or gender.

This can include sexual harassment, unequal pay, or denial of benefits based on gender. Both men and women have protection from sex and gender discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.

6. Religion

Religious discrimination occurs when an employer or coworker takes negative action against an employee because of their religious beliefs. This can include not hiring someone because of their religion or forcing them to participate in activities against their beliefs.

7. Pregnancy

Another common type of discrimination is based on pregnancy. This can include not hiring a woman because she's pregnant or giving her different assignments or duties because of her pregnancy.

8. National origin

National origin discrimination is when an employer takes negative action against an employee because of their country of origin. This can include segregated work areas or unequal pay.

No employer is allowed to discriminate against employees based on their national origin.

These are just a few of the most common types of workplace discrimination. If you think you've been the victim of discrimination, consider obtaining legal help to protect your rights.

If you see someone else dealing with discrimination, don’t hesitate to speak up and support them! Use your voice to be a friend and let your coworker know they're not alone. Verbal harassment and unlawful discrimination are never okay.

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What do you do if you've been discriminated against?

No one should have to deal with discrimination at work. If you are coping with unwarranted discrimination or facing harassment by someone at work, there are steps you can take to handle the situation. If you witness someone else being discriminated against or harassed, use your voice to support your coworker.

Remember, one of the best ways to deal with workplace discrimination is to prevent it from happening in the first place. With everyone working together, we can create a discrimination-free workplace for all.

If you need more information on finding a job while in a protected class, visit the Jobcase Getting Hired Resource Center to learn more about how to navigate the job market.

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Phoebe Montrie
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✨A Bartender Who Loves Helping Others!✨

I think this community will really benefit from all of this detailed advice on how to handle these situations! It can be hard to know exactly what to do afterwards or even what to look for, so thank you for laying it out step by step!

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