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Types of Discrimination in the Workplace

by Bronwyn Timmons

Discrimination is prejudicial treatment toward a person because of a group they are a part of. While laws are in place to prevent discrimination in the workplace, many people still find themselves being discriminated against at work every day. Recognizing the types of workplace discrimination will enable you to identify discrimination when it occurs -- whether you, a coworker or another employee is the victim.

Discrimination Based on Race or Ethnicity

Discrimination based on race or country of origin is prohibited by law, but that does not mean the practice does not exist. People may experience racial discrimination in the form of harassment around the work place -- for example, being called racial slurs or having derogatory remarks made toward them regarding their skin color or ethic background. Other forms of racial or ethic discrimination are not as obvious, and may include preferential or negative treatment, being passed up for a promotion or being paid at a different rate because of race or ethnicity. Employers are not allowed to enact policies or rules that favor or discriminate against employees that belong to a specific race or ethnic group. Companies also may not discriminate against job applicants because of their race or ethnicity.

Discrimination Based on Sex

As with racial and ethnic discrimination, sex-based discrimination takes on many forms at work. Sexual harassment is one of the most obvious forms, and may include unwanted sexual advances, propositions or crude remarks toward an employee. Sex-based discrimination may also involve preferential or negative treatment, being passed over for a promotion, or being paid at a different rate because of gender. Companies can not discriminate against applicants based on their sex; nor can a company enact policies that apply to everyone if the policy has a negative impact on employees of a certain sex. Both men and women can be victims of sex-based workplace discrimination.

Discrimination Based on Religion

Discrimination based on religion involves treating a person unfairly because of his religious affiliation, and is prohibited by law. As with other forms of discrimination, religious discrimination includes harassment and preferential or negative treatment. By law, employers must make reasonable accommodations for religious employees, regardless of their religion. This may include flexible scheduling to allow an employee his day of worship off; allowing an employee to wear garments associated with her religion; or allowing people to follow a religion's grooming policies, so long as it does not cause an undue hardship on the business. For example, a Jewish man must be allowed to wear a yarmulke to work if he so chooses. A company cannot force its employees to attend a religious service or participate in religious activities.

Discrimination Based on Disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents employers from discriminating against people with disabilities, so long as they are qualified to perform their job. This does not mean an employer is required to hire everyone with a disability, but so long as there is no undue hardship, employers must make reasonable accomodations for employees with disabilities. For example, an employee confined to a wheelchair may be given a desk that fits with it. Harassment toward employees with disabilities is prohibited by law, as is preferential or negative treatment because of their condition. When interviewing, the law prohibits employers from asking applicants about their disabilities. Once a job has been offered, a company can require applicants to answer medical questions or pass a medical exam, but these must be required of all employees, and not just those who are disabled.

Discrimination Based on Age

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prevents companies from discriminating against applicants and employees over the age of 40, meaning these employees may not be treated unfavorably. Favorable treatment of employees over 40, however, is allowed. There are no federal laws in place to protect workers under 40 from age-based discrimination, though some states have their own laws that do. Companies may favor older workers over younger workers.

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