Discrimination at Work: What To Do Staff Profile Picture
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Workplace discrimination is a very serious issue that affects countless workers across the United States. For people of color, workplace discrimination and harassment are something that is an unfortunate reality. For women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, harassment and discrimination have been a long-time concern. According to Harvard, 57% of black Americans reported discrimination in pay and advancement opportunities In comparison, 31% of all women say they have been discriminated against when applying for jobs due to their gender. 35% of Asian Americans have reported experiencing people making insensitive comments and inappropriate jokes about their ethnicity. This article will help guide you through what to do in the case of workplace discrimination, and the process of filing a workplace complaint in order to protect your rights as a worker.

Types of Discrimination

There are several categories of discrimination that people face in the workplace, which center around protected classes. Even though some of these are federally protected by legislation, there are still too many cases of discrimination happening within the workplace. In this section, we’ll discuss the seven different types of discrimination that you could face in the workplace.

Racial discrimination

Racial discrimination in the workplace includes any discrimination that is due to perceived or actual race, country of origin, skin color, or ethnicity. It includes employees receiving unfair treatment for their skin complexion, type of hair, and facial features that may be unique to a specific race or ethnicity. Racial discrimination can come in a lot of different shapes and sizes and can be overt and subtle. Still, it always has a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s professional career and their mental health. This can include things like hiring or promotion decisions based on race instead of qualifications or performance, disparities in pay, hostile work environments, and retaliation.

Religious discrimination

The EEOC defines religious discrimination as “treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs.” Religious discrimination in the workplace can also involve treating someone differently because of who that person is married to if that person belongs to a different religion. The law protects people who belong to both traditional organized religions and those who have other sincere religious, moral, and ethical beliefs. Religious discrimination in the workplace also involves peoples’ religious attire and grooming requirements, as employers cannot legally impose dress codes or appearance standards that directly conflict with these traditions.

Disability discrimination

Disability discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employee or applicant is treated unfairly by an employer because of their disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act both protect disabled employees and applicants from employers who may discriminate against them in the form of unethical hiring practices, termination, pay, job assignments, promotions, training, and benefits, among others. This also can include refusing reasonable accommodations for a disabled employee unless it would cause an undue hardship for the employer.

Sex and gender discrimination

Unfair treatment of an employee’s gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation falls under the “sex and gender discrimination” category. One of the most commonly experienced forms of workplace discrimination and harassment, sex and gender discrimination creates a hostile and offensive work environment for victims, and it encompasses a wide range of issues related to both sex and gender identity and expression.

Discrimination against LGBTQ+

Discrimination in the workplace against members of the LGBTQ+ community was officially deemed illegal in 2020 by the United States Supreme Court. Employers cannot fire or discriminate against an employee simply because they belong to this community. This also falls under the category of “sex and gender discrimination” and includes this protected class from unfair hiring and firing practices, unequal pay, and other unethical practices from employers.

Age discrimination

Age discrimination occurs when an employer treats an applicant or an employee unfairly due to their age, particularly when it negatively impacts their chances of gaining employment. Age discrimination is prohibited in the United States under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and it protects all people who are 40 and older from discrimination.

Pregnancy discrimination

Pregnancy discrimination is also considered sex and gender discrimination, and the laws enforced by the EEOC protect both job applicants and employees who are pregnant. Pregnancy discrimination can also involve current, past, and potential pregnancies, medical conditions that are related to pregnancy or childbirth, having or choosing not to have an abortion, and whether the applicant or employee takes birth control. The three laws that protect people from pregnancy discrimination are the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

What’s the Difference Between Discrimination and Harassment?

You might hear people talk about discrimination and harassment in the workplace, but is there a difference between the two? The answer is yes. Understanding the difference between them is crucial. Discrimination refers to the unequal treatment you may have dealt with because of your protected characteristics. Harassment involves any unwelcome conduct that creates a hostile work environment and makes it difficult for you to be able to do your job. Harassment can be based on the same protected characteristics, and it can involve a variety of forms like offensive jokes, intimidation tactics, or offensive slurs. Both discrimination and harassment can be harmful to victims, so make sure you understand which one you’re facing so you can take the appropriate action.

How To Recognize Workplace Discrimination

Workplace discrimination can come in many different forms. If you are the victim of workplace discrimination, there are times when it may be happening indirectly to you. Even if it is not happening to you, there are other ways to recognize workplace discrimination within the company or organization you work for. Here are some common ways to recognize workplace discrimination:

Unequal treatment and unfair practices

One of the most common ways to recognize workplace discrimination is unfair treatment or unethical practices by your employer. If you have noticed that you or other employees are being assigned specific tasks, denied the opportunity to work on bigger projects, passed over for promotions or pay raises, or being excluded from career advancement opportunities due to their protected characteristics, you can make a claim for workplace discrimination against the employer. Every employee should be given an equal opportunity. Being aware of and recognizing these patterns could be crucial in protecting yourself and your coworkers from discrimination.

Hostile work environment and harassment

Another common way to identify workplace discrimination is if you are in a hostile work environment or witness blatant verbal or physical harassment against a coworker. If you or a coworker have experienced ongoing harassment in the form of offensive comments, jokes, or slurs that are related to their protected characteristics, it can create an environment that is not only negative and difficult to work in but it creates a workplace that is intolerable for everyone. Make sure you stay aware of any behavior that may contribute to the creation of a hostile work environment, even when it isn’t directed at you. 

Unequal pay and benefits

Unequal pay and benefits are other signs of workplace discrimination, and they can be challenging to uncover. If you find out that you are getting paid much less than colleagues who share similar duties and have comparable skills or qualifications, it might be a sign that you are a victim of workplace discrimination. This difference in pay or benefits may be related to one or several of your protected characteristics, including race, sex, gender, religion, or other. This can also include receiving fewer or different benefits than your coworkers, as well as getting fewer opportunities for advancement within the organization as compared to your coworkers.

Who Should I Contact?

If you’ve been the victim of workplace discrimination or you’ve witnessed it within your organization, it can be a stressful event. However, it’s crucial to report the discrimination to the correct entities and get the help that is deserved as a protected class. The EEOC is the federal agency that is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination laws that employers must follow in the United States, and they can help you file a claim. They will investigate it to the fullest extent. Many states will have their own labor agency, such as the Department of Labor, that works with discrimination cases in their respective jurisdictions. Different states may have other specific laws and definitions of protected classes or characteristics, so your state’s labor agency will have the expertise in that field with your case. 

You should also definitely file a complaint with your employer directly, as they will be able to help address the ongoing harassment or discrimination. If you have witnessed discrimination or been a victim, it’s important to bring it up to your organization’s human resources department. HR professionals are trained to handle workplace discrimination and harassment issues, which can include launching an internal investigation to work to resolve the issue within the organization. If the discrimination is between you and a coworker or a coworker has been the victim of the discrimination, you can also report the discrimination to your direct supervisor or manager if you feel comfortable doing so. If your supervisor or manager is involved in the discrimination, though, you should consider reaching out to HR directly.

How To File a Workplace Complaint

Filing a workplace discrimination complaint is necessary when you’ve experienced or witnessed discrimination in your workplace and want to hold the organization accountable. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you file a workplace complaint:

Collect information about the incidents

Collect and maintain detailed records of harassment and instances of discrimination. Make sure you take note of dates, times, locations, the people involved, and any evidence that might be involved including emails or text messages. This is important for establishing that the discrimination or harassment was ongoing and unwarranted. At the minimum, you’ll need the name and address of the business you’re filing the complaint against. 

Consult with a state-level agency or EEOC

Once you feel comfortable starting the process of filing your complaint, contact the EEOC or the state agency that deals with workplace discrimination cases. They will be able to help you through the entire process and help you understand your rights in the workplace. The agency you contact might offer mediation as an initial step to resolve the issue, but they can also investigate to gather more evidence on the issue. 

File a formal complaint

If mediation or other actions to resolve the issue are unsuccessful, filing a formal complaint against the employer is the final step. Doing this through the state-level labor department or EEOC will trigger further action against the employer, which can include litigation.

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you need help with filing a workplace discrimination complaint against an organization, it is recommended that you have an attorney for this very complex and thorough process. An experienced discrimination attorney can offer unparalleled legal expertise to help you make informed decisions, negotiate to achieve a resolution, and represent you in court. They will advocate for your rights as a person with protected characteristics. Below are some legal resources that can help you find a knowledgeable and experienced attorney:

Legal Voice

Legal Voice is an organization based out of Seattle, WA that works with all people facing gender discrimination to help create and enforce laws that are strong and equitable, as well as empower people to know their rights. Their website, located here, offers plenty of helpful legal resources to help you better understand your rights and receive help when you find yourself in the midst of a discriminatory issue in your workplace. has an online directory of the most experienced workplace discrimination attorneys to help you find legal representation. If you’re looking for advice on how to file your workplace discrimination complaint or need legal representation for an existing case, their online attorney directory can help you find a local attorney who specializes in these types of cases. Get the help and representation you deserve by visiting their website, located here.

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