Types of Workplace Discrimination

Workplace discrimination

What is workplace discrimination, and what constitutes discrimination against employees or job applicants? Employment discrimination happens when an employee or job applicant is treated unfavorably because of his or her race, skin color, national origin, gender, disability, religion, or age.

It is illegal to discriminate based on race, religion, gender, or national original when hiring or in the workplace.

It is illegal to discriminate in any facet of employment, so workplace discrimination extends beyond hiring and firing to discrimination that can happen to someone who is currently employed.

What Is Employment Discrimination?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful to discriminate in hiring, discharge, promotion, referral, and other facets of employment, on the basis of color, race, religion, sex, or national origin. This is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In addition, federal contractors and subcontractors must take affirmative action to guarantee equal employment opportunity without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin. Executive Order 11246 is enforced by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

Discrimination vs. Harassment

What's the difference between discrimination and harassment? Harassment is a form of discrimination. As with discrimination, there are different types of harassment, including unwelcome behavior by a co-worker, manager, client, or anyone else in the workplace, that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), nationality, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.

Different Types of Employment Discrimination

Workplace discrimination occurs when an individual is adversely discriminated against due to any number of factors. In addition to the reasons listed above, employees and job applicants can also be discriminated against because of disabilities, genetic information, pregnancy, or because of their relationship to another person.

Review this list of the different types of employment discrimination, examples of workplace discrimination, and tips for handling workplace discrimination issues.

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Skin Color
  • National Origin
  • Mental or Physical Disability
  • Genetic Information
  • Relationship to someone who may be discriminated against
  • Pregnancy or Parenthood

Examples of Employment Discrimination

Employment discrimination could occur in any number of situations, including:

  • Stating or suggesting preferred candidates in a job advertisement
  • Excluding potential employees during recruitment
  • Denying certain employees compensation or benefits
  • Paying equally-qualified employees in the same position different salaries
  • Discriminating when assigning disability leavematernity leave, or retirement options
  • Denying or disrupting the use of company facilities
  • Discrimination when issuing promotions or lay-offs

Discrimination Legislation and Issues

Age Discrimination
Age discrimination is a practice specifically prohibited by law. With a few rare exceptions, companies are forbidden from specifying an age preference in job advertisements. Employees must receive the same benefits regardless of age, the only exception being when the cost of providing supplemental benefits to young workers is the same as providing reduced benefits to older workers. Also, age discrimination in apprenticeship programs or internship opportunities is illegal.

Religious Discrimination
It is illegal for employers to discriminate based on an individual's religious customs. Businesses are required to make reasonable accomodation of an employee's religious beliefs, as long as doing so doesn't have excessive negative consequences for the employer.

Gender Discrimination
When paying a salary to men and women of the same qualifications, responsibility, skill level, and position, employers are forbidden to discriminate on the basis of gender. Also, businesses are forbidden from lowering one gender's salary in order to equalize pay between men and women.

Pregnancy-Based Discrimination
Additionally, pregnancy-based discrimination is illegal. Employers are required to handle pregnancy in the same way that they would handle a temporary illness or other non-permanent condition that would necessitate special consideration. Job seekers have the same rights as employees, and both are protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) passed in 1978.

Hostile Work Environment
A hostile work environment is created when harassment or discrimination interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates a difficult or offensive work environment for an employee or group of employees.

Unlawful Discrimination and Harassment

It's important to note that discriminatory practices can occur in any aspect of employment. It is illegal for an employer to make assumptions based on race, gender, or age-related stereotypes, and it's also unlawful for an employer to assume that an employee may be incapable because he or she is disabled.

Additionally, companies are prohibited from withholding employment opportunities from an employee because of his or her relationship with someone of a certain race, religion, or ethnicity. Unlawful discrimination also includes harassment based on legally protected personal traits, including (but not limited to) race, gender, age, and religion.

Employment Discrimination Complaints

Under United States laws, companies are prohibited from subjecting employees to unfair treatment or blatant discrimination based on these legally-protected characteristics. Also, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against a person who has filed a complaint about discrimination or participated in a related investigation.

While not all unfavorable treatment constitutes unlawful discrimination, any employee who believes that he or she has experienced workplace discrimination can file a complaint with the EEOC (The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

Distribution of EEOC Complaints

The EEOC reported the following breakdown for the charges of workplace discrimination that were received by the agency in 2018:

  • Retaliation: 39,469 (51.6% of all charges filed)
  • Sex: 24,655 (32.3%)
  • Race: 24,600 (32.2%)
  • Disability: 24,605 (32.2%)
  • Age: 16,911 (22.1%)
  • National Origin: 7,106 (9.3%)
  • Color: 3,166 (4.1%)
  • Religion: 2,859 (3.7%)
  • Equal Pay Act: 1,066 (1.4%)
  • Genetic Information: 220 (0.3%)

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. 

Article Sources

  1.  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Executive Order 11246, As Amended," Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

  3. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978," Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

  4. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "Laws Enforced by EEOC," Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

  5. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "EEOC Releases Fiscal Year 2018 Enforcement and Litigation Data," Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.