Four Ways to Deal With Workplace Discrimination

Updated: Nov 16, 2021 How To Deal With Workplace Discrimination

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Workplace discrimination is one of the leading topics in the modern business world. This is largely due to the negative impact it upholds on both employees’ wellbeing and overall organisational productivity.

Research* has shown that workplace discrimination has been found to harm mental health from diminished psychological well-being and increased risk of psychological distress. These ails further links* to increased turnover intentions and poorer discretionary performance at work.

Hence, we must touch base on what constitutes workplace discrimination so that we can ensure that employees receive equal and fair treatment as they deserve.

What is workplace discrimination?

Workplace Discrimination

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Discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employee is treated unfavourably because of gender, sexuality, race, religion, pregnancy, and maternity or disability.

Sometimes discrimination can be easy to spot, these instances are known as direct discrimination.

But there are other times, discrimination might be indirect. In these scenarios, you may be treated in the same way as everybody else. However, it has a negative impact on you because of who you are.

Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination occurs when one employee is treated less favourably than other employees. For example, someone might have the qualifications for the job but you turn them down because of their ethnicity.

Direct discrimination also occurs when someone is paid less than others for no solid reason. Or perhaps no reasonable adjustments are made for disabled workers. It could even look like being unfairly rejected for flexible working as a new parent.

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination occurs when a workplace policy is applied to everyone in the company in the same way. Typically, this policy ends up being disadvantageous to an individual or group which shares the same 'protected characteristic'.

For example, there’s a clause in your contract which says all employees may have to travel frequently at short notice. But it is difficult for you to do this because you’re a woman with young children.

On the surface, treating all employees equally sounds like a great idea. Yet, applying a blanket policy or rule does not take into consideration how race, religion, age, and other protected characteristics can face unfair treatment.

What should organisations do to prevent workplace discrimination?

How To Prevent Workplace Discrimination

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The good news is that these problems can be prevented if organisations stay proactive in preventing workplace discrimination. By taking the time to understand your office dynamics, you can then implement a few simple measures to prevent a lot of problems and keep your team performing optimally.

Fair Recruitment

Preventing discrimination begins before you even employ someone. Essentially, your hiring advertisements should refrain from discriminatory terms like “Persons with young children need not apply” or “Looking for an experienced cleaner who MUST speak English at all times”

As you move on to the hiring process, you should treat all candidates the same. Ask everyone the same set of questions and avoid questions that fall under the protected characteristics such as asking someone if they plan to start a family soon.

Clearly-defined policies

Create an equal opportunities policy scripted with what behavior is and isn’t acceptable at work. This policy should also entail how discrimination complaints are submitted, handled, and resolved.

This official document will help employees to understand their rights and responsibilities. By having everyone sign a receipt of acknowledgement, it will significantly reduce the likelihood of people inadvertently discriminating against others. Ultimately, it gives employees peace of mind knowing that they are protected.

Anti-discrimination education and training

Anti-discrimination education and training can be part of the onboarding process to ensure that employees acknowledge the dos and don’ts from day one. It’s also good to include the anti-discrimination policies in their employee handbook and employment contract.

Furthermore, organisations are encouraged to regularly conduct anti-discrimination training programs. Managers, supervisors, and even employees will benefit from being regularly trained on how to spot cases of discrimination and how to report allegations.

Efficient complaints-handling procedures

When an employee makes a complaint of discrimination, managers and supervisors need to address it immediately and confidently. Taking efficient action increases the validity of your anti-discrimination policies. As a result, your employees can be assured that their differences are respected in their workplace.

Ultimately, organisations need to establish a complaints process that is tailored to the company’s culture, size, structure, and resources. And consistency in how issues are addressed is crucial for building trust and credibility with your employees.


Many businesses have so much on their plate that discrimination prevention may not be a top priority. However, we mustn’t underestimate how minor or indirect acts of discrimination can hurt an entire organisation’s wellbeing, productivity, and even public reputation.

With thoughtful and efficient systems and protocols in place, you don’t just prevent workplace discrimination. But you’ll also enhance your bottom line, and ultimately cultivate a resilient company environment that allows everyone to thrive.

Read other Workplace Well-being Related Resources:    

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Reference Links:

  1. A study on workplace discrimination and depressive symptoms

  2. Exposure to psychological aggression at work and job performance

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