Discrimination in the workplace

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Discrimination in the workplace

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Discrimination in the Workplace


Workplace bullying is the frequent, irrational actions of groups of people or individuals directed at an employee or employees with the intention of intimidating, degrading, humiliating, undermining or creating a risk to the health of the victims (Peng, Chen, Chang & Zhuang, 2016).  Bullying at workplaces is mainly emotional. It may involve physical abuse as well. Many studies indicate a close relationship between workplace discrimination and race, age, sex, beliefs, nationality, physical and mental ability or disability and sexual alignment (Workplace Answers, 2017a). Differences in earnings and occupation may or may not lead to discrimination at the place of work.

Many governments and organizations have legislated laws with the aim of eliminating discrimination and enhance fair treatment for all. However, certain minorities end up facing various types of discrimination from their colleagues at workplaces. The main instigators of discrimination are moral values and ethics, management of talent, fair conduct, administration, employment and promotions.


Facts about Workplace Bullying

Researchers have shown that discrimination can occur at any workplace regardless of the income levels, rank of employees or profession. Bible (2012) reported that 37% of American workers are discriminated in their workplaces. If unmentioned discrimination from coworker bystanders is included in the statistics, then almost half of the American population is affected. The number is huge and highly astonishing given that America is a developed economy. Furthermore, 20% of victims of discrimination resign from their jobs yearly. Additionally, 20% of witnesses of bullying will resign because of a workplace bully.

According to figure 1, 37% of actions done by human resource personnel at the workplace lead to retaliation from the employees in the United States. 31% of human resource officers take no action when informed about discrimination in workplaces while 18% of human resource actions lead to job losses with respect to discrimination. In some cases, 12% of bullied employees choose to remain silent about their workplace problems. Only 2% of organizations in the United States enforce just and fair discrimination conflict resolution mechanisms.

Figure 1: Satisfaction with Human Resource Actions

Data obtained from Workplace Answers, 2017a)

Organizations can help in minimizing workplace discrimination by first discovering whether or not it takes place in their companies. Creating anti-discrimination policies, enforcing the policies and creating discrimination-preventive measures against any forthcoming incidences can help in eradicating the vice. In order to minimize the impacts of workplace discrimination, companies by fostering higher productivity and companionship amongst employees (Workplace Answers, 2017b). But how many organizations have the policies in place? How many companies enforce the policies when discrimination offences are reported?

A study on enforcement of discrimination policies in American organizations revealed that 62% of the organizations had no such policies as shown in figure 2. Furthermore, 18% of the companies have the policies in place but they are not enforced. 15% of the organizations sampled reported that they have policies which encourage respect amongst all employees, albeit weak.  Only 3% of the companies have specific laws that specify bullying policies but only 2% apply the laws when needed as shown in figure 2.

Figure 2: Organizations that have a Bullying Policy in Place

Data obtained from (Workplace Answers, 2017a)


Signs of Workplace Discrimination

Senior leaders in organizations need to learn on how to detect workplace discrimination if at all the scenarios have to be resolved. Victims of discrimination suffer a lot of agony in silence. In fact, some employees are afraid of reporting to senior managers because they know that nobody will favor them. Others fail to report for fears of reprisals. In the long run, victims develop emotional instability and diseases which undermine their performance and lead to poor performance. Cardiovascular diseases, anxiety, depression, stress disorders and many more can be avoided if the right steps are taken to identify discrimination before it bears bitter fruits. It is important to note that any form of discrimination negatively affects the company in the short and long run (Workplace Answers, 2017b)

Many organizations urge their employees to stay focused and passionate about their jobs. Some people are very good at faking their emotions to extents which cannot be contradicted. It is hard to distinguish between informal interactions and discriminatory remarks. However, deeper analyses can reveal anomalies which are better sorted before they explode. The best way of identifying bullies is by watching their actions over time. As defined in the introduction section, discrimination involves repeated actions. While some actions may seem inoffensive, continuous and sustained behaviors can show aggressive and offensive patterns. In case of any suspicion, it is always good to ask and confirm from the parties involved instead of waiting to amend broken relationships and poor productivity. Below are some symptoms of discrimination in the workplace:

  1. Intimidating behaviors

Any actions and communications in the workplace that aim to threaten and induce fear should be investigated. Such actions such as verbal abuses, intimidating actions and encroachment into personal spheres of operation are clear indications of discrimination. When noticed, action should be taken and warmings issued.

  1. Unsupported criticism

Some employees hide behind criticism to vent their anger and discrimination towards others. Dressing down other employees in public or in private whether done by senior managers should be discouraged since such aggressive and inappropriate criticisms may lead to enmity and discrimination. If the victims discharge their duties well, it is the work of all employees to investigate any negative criticism directed to such victims.

  1. Sabotaging work performance

Sabotage is a case where one employee or a group of employees act in such ways as to make it impossible for their victims to accomplish their assigned duties. For instance, some managers or supervisors may change the expectations of results or work frequently to frustrate their subjects and make their work difficult.

  1. Social alienation

Teamwork is good in fostering companionship and cohesion in the workplace. Instances where coworkers ignore an employee or a group of employees by excluding them from important events, meetings and discussions based on vague reasons may seem suspect.


  1. Unnecessary scrutiny

Thorough and frequent scrutiny of fellow workmates with the aim of finding mistakes amounts to discrimination. It is expedient for employees to trust in each other. Managers should also trust their subjects. Why should you employ somebody only to focus on their mistakes instead of their achievements?

  1. Absenteeism

Discrimination can make a worker with excellent attendance records to suddenly start taking more days at home or sick leaves. Any absenteeism from work should be investigated.

  1. Resignation

Some victims of discrimination will rather resign that face the challenges surrounding their jobs. Human resource managers should always try to find out the reasons behind resignations.


Examples of Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination takes many forms some of which are beyond the scope of this paper. Here are some examples of discriminatory scenarios.

  1. Indirect discrimination always occurs in job adverts where the employer specifies the height, color, sex, ethnic background of the applicants. Many job adverts, unless when essentially needed, may leave other applicants out for reasons which are beyond their control. Unless the employer shows why certain people should apply for the job and not the others, short people will feel discriminated.
  2. Discrimination of association occurs when an employee is treated poorly than others in the same category because of people they know or people they are connected to. For instance, a person may be treated poorly in the workplace because a member of their family is gay, lesbian, physically challenged and many others.
  3. Discrimination by imputation occurs when an employee is treated poorly at the workplace because they are in certain groups. For instance, a member of the Traveler Community may be denied an opportunity to handle money.
  1. Excluding potential and better qualified employees during an interview based on their racial, nationality, religious or other discriminatory factors.
  2. Failing to give certain employees salary increments, compensation or other benefits which are applicable to all employees based on discriminatory grounds.
  3. Paying different salaries to equally qualified workers with the same skills and doing similar duties.
  4. Discriminatory assignment of leave of absence from work. For example, some managers giving preferential treatment of some employees against the others.
  5. Denying some workers access to staff facilities such as company vehicles, toilets, food and many others due to job positions and other mean issues.


Discrimination Laws and Issues

Federal Laws regarding discrimination at workplaces have been developed over time. Under Federal law, employers generally cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of:

The Federal law illegalizes any discrimination based on race, military affiliation, bankruptcy, sex, pregnancy, genetic information, citizenship status, disability, status, age, nationality and religious affiliation (EEOC, 2017).The employment discrimination laws of United States are derived from the common law and explained in the Civil Rights Act 1964, counties and municipalities, various states and Federal laws. Discrimination in the public and private sector during recruitment, hiring, evaluating, promoting, training, compensating and disciplining is prohibited by the constitution.

The following acts specify how employees should be treated at the places of work:

  • The Equal Pay Act
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
  • Family and Medical Leave Act
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • The Black Lung Benefits Act of 1973
  • The Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978
  • The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
  • The Nineteenth Century Civil Rights Acts
  • Americans with Disabilities Act
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008
  • Equality Act of 2015


Types of Workplace Discrimination

Workplace discrimination occurs when a person is victimized because of some factors which are not favorable to the other party. Employees may be discriminated based on emotional disabilities, nationality, mental or physical disability, hereditary information, race, height, skin color, age, gender, and gravidity or due to their connection with other people Doyle, A. (2017).


Age Discrimination
Age discrimination is unlawful discrimination of employees of certain ages. The age of employees are specified in law. Minors are not supposed to be employed. Other than minors, the law does not discriminate age limits for job applicants. With rare exceptions, companies should not specify the age limits in adverts. In the workplace, all employees working in the same department, doing similar jobs should get similar salary and benefit packages with exception of a few provisions. The law does not allow discrimination in placement for apprenticeship and internship programs.


Religious Discrimination
Religious discrimination occurs when members of certain religious affiliations are bullied. All businesses are allowed by law to accommodate employees from all religions as long as the recruitment will not invalidate the employer’s business and operation.


Gender Discrimination
Gender discrimination at the places of work involves but is not limited to paying male workers more than female workers in the same roles. Men and women of similar qualifications and skills set, position and responsibility, working in the same organization should be paid similar compensation according to the law. The law forbids companies from lowering salaries based on gender.


Pregnancy-Based Discrimination
Discrimination based on pregnancy is illegal. According to the United States law, employers should treat pregnancy as any other temporary illness and other temporary conditions from which a patient can recover and resume normal duties. Dismissal of pregnant women amounts to pregnancy based discrimination.


Hostile Work Environment
Hostile work environment occurs as a result of discriminatory measures which aim to make the environment unbearable to the worker. It may also aim to lower performance and create an offensive workplace to certain employees.


Rights against Workplace Discrimination

  • The law protects workers from discrimination by giving them the following rights:
  • Protection from unbridled dismissal from workplaces
  • Adherence to employment terms and conditions
  • Salary, wages and other benefits
  • Promotion and occasional transfers
  • The right to training
  • Right of resignation at will
  • The right of recruitment
  • Right of accessing information in braille for the blind


Effects of Workplace Discrimination

The effects of workplace discrimination have manifested themselves throughout this paper. The effects range from poor productivity, absenteeism from work, dismissal, diseases, violence and higher employee turnover. The bottom lines of organizations may suffer when companies dedicate productive time in investigating complaints and remedying broken relationships. Worse still organizations and individuals my face potential litigation by perpetrators and victims of discrimination.

Company culture and moral values are always at stake if news of wide spread discrimination reach the mainstream media. The organization may lose customers and its face altogether which may hurt its future and its ability to attract and retain talents. Bullies not only harm the company’s reputation and finances, they cause negative and irreversible effects to their victims. Organizations that are managed are managed by discrimination end up scaring investors too. Statistics show that companies lose an annual average of $30,000 to $100,000 in mitigating incidences related to bullying in healthcare, cleansing the brand and litigation.


How to Solve the Problem of Workplace Discrimination

Bullying should not be tolerated in the workplace since it has adverse effects on employees’ morale, efficiency and people’s lives and health, bullying should not be tolerated in the workplace. Since bullying is a complicated issue, it’s important to establish clear policies against bullying and reinforce your commitment to stamping out bullying through training and enforcement of rules.


Guidelines for Developing Policies to Mitigate Discrimination

The first step in mitigating workplace discrimination is by implementing a zero tolerance policy sustained by managers and enforced by the human resource officers.

  1. List the Policy in the Employee Handbook

All policies regarding conduct at the place of work should be written in a handbook which should be signed by all employees before assuming responsibility. The handbook should contain all aspects of workplace discrimination, guidelines for investigating complaints and consequences and punishment for culpable perpetrators. This will ensure that all employees are conversant with the rules and regulations.

  1. Reporting Procedures

All organizations should have a transparent and anonymous reporting system which enables workers to report any cases confidentially. This will enable fearful and weak workers to report the challenges facing them without fear of reprisals. For instance a suggestion box can be used to report abnormal occurrences in the company when they experience or witness it.

  1. Signing of Contracts

Companies should require all workers to sign anti-discrimination compliance forms in the final stage of hiring. They should acknowledge and promise to hold high standards of etiquette without discriminating.

  1. Interactive training

Organizations should implement interactive training about the essence of cohesion and teamwork in the place of work. Educating workers is a good human resource practice and an effective way of ending workplace discrimination.



Workplace discrimination causes many negative ripple effects in organizations. It is estimated that 16% of the workers in the United States are bullied in the workplace in any single day. Worse still, workplace discrimination is four times more prevalent than the common illegal forms of harassment. Workplace discrimination is detrimental to the performance and productivity of employees. It must be discouraged always by enforcing anti-discrimination policies.





Bible, J. D. (2012). The Jerk at Work: Workplace Bullying and the Law’s Inability to Combat It. Employee Relations Law Journal, 38(1), 32-51

Doyle, A. (2017). Types of Employment Discrimination with ExamplesThe Balance. Retrieved 28 September 2017, from https://www.thebalance.com/types-of-employment-discrimination-with-examples-2060914

EEOC. (2017). Laws & GuidanceEeoc.gov. Retrieved 28 September 2017, from https://www.eeoc.gov/policy/adea.html

Peng, Y., Chen, L., Chang, C., & Zhuang, W. (2016). Workplace bullying and workplace deviance. Employee Relations38(5), 755-769. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/er-01-2016-0014

Workplace Answers. (2017a). 6 Signs of Workplace Bullying (And What to Do About It)Workplaceanswers.com. Retrieved 28 September 2017, from http://www.workplaceanswers.com/resources/blog/workplace-bullying-signs/

Workplace Answers. (2017b). The Organizational Challenge of Workplace BullyingWorkplaceanswers.com. Retrieved 28 September 2017, from http://www.workplaceanswers.com/resources/blog/the-organizational-challenge-of-workplace-bullying-/


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