Home News How to Identify Discrimination at Work: Essential Tips

How to Identify Discrimination at Work: Essential Tips


Employment discrimination happens in many different ways. Sometimes it is subtle and quiet. Other times it is loud and life-altering. The shift supervisor or line manager can discriminate. So can the CEO and the owner of the company.  No matter how it happens or who does it, it is always harmful and always warrants a conversation with a lawyer for employment discrimination. While this article provides an overview of tips to identify employment discrimination, an experienced employment discrimination lawyer can assess your case, apply the law, offer legal advice, and, if appropriate, represent you in a lawsuit to hold the people who discriminated against you in the workplace accountable and get you the compensation you deserve.

Below are ten essential tips to help you identify workplace discrimination. Each tip has an accompanying example. There are many examples of how each of these examples can happen.

  1. Unequal pay for equal work. Employment discrimination might be happening if you and your coworker have the same position, the same responsibilities, and the same experience but they make more money than you do. Example. Jane and John are project managers with similar experience, job duties, and performance reviews. John’s salary is significantly higher than Jane’s without an apparent, legitimate reason.
  2. Inconsistent application of company policies. Pay attention to how your employer applies policies in the workplace. Discrimination might occur if your employer enforces rules differently depending on who is involved. Example. Mike and Mark both ask for Friday off. Mike has a party to attend, and Mark must attend a religious observance. Their boss gives Mike the night off but tells Mark they need the extra hands, so Mark has to work.
  3. Exclusion from meetings or projects. Being consistently left out of meetings, discussions, assignments, or projects relevant to your job could indicate discrimination. Example. Sarah notices she is not invited to the key strategy meetings that are crucial to Sarah doing her job effectively. She notices that her male colleagues are invited to the strategy meetings.
  4. Inappropriate jokes or comments. Pay attention to jokes or remarks about race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or other protected characteristics. If the jokes, comments, or remarks make you uncomfortable, this can be a form of harassment and workplace discrimination. This is true even if whoever said it says they are just kidding or someone else said something far worse. Example. George frequently makes comments about his colleague’s religious attire. Even though the comments aren’t “mean,” they make George’s colleague uncomfortable and self-conscious.
  5. Lack of opportunity for advancement. Employment discrimination might be present if you see a pattern where your employer never considers specific groups of people for promotion or professional development opportunities. Example. Despite having the necessary qualifications and experience, along with years of positive performance reviews, Courtney, a woman of color, notices that she is repeatedly passed over for promotions in favor of less qualified colleagues.
  6. Varying severity of discipline. Pay attention to how your boss disciplines employees. Discrimination may occur if some employees are punished more severely than others for the same offense. Example. Bob and Bill are both late to work, but their supervisor only penalizes Bob, who is over 55, for it. If this becomes a pattern and the tardiness policy is applied to Bob more regularly, this could suggest bias.
  7. Feedback based on stereotypes. Job performance reviews and even daily critiques that rely on stereotypes related to gender, race, age, or other protected categories can be discriminatory. Example. Comments in performance reviews that Brenda, a female employee, is “not aggressive enough” or Brandon, an older employee, “may have a tough time with the new technology” show bias and don’t actually relate to actual job performance.
  8. Physical, verbal, or digital harassment. Harassment can be physical (unwanted touching), verbal (offensive comments or remarks), or digital (inappropriate emails or texts). You can often identify discrimination by being aware of and monitoring how your employer, boss, supervisor, manager, or other colleagues treat you and your colleagues. Example. Lou receives emails from a supervisor that contain inappropriate and suggestive content, which makes her uncomfortable.
  9. Retaliation after complaints. If you have reported your employer for an employment violation or supported a co-worker for doing the same, watch for adverse changes in your employment situation. If your employer does something negative just because of your complaint or support, that could be workplace discrimination. Example. Shortly after Carl complained about racial discrimination, his employer cut his hours and gave him more work to do without explanation.
  10. Isolation or segregation. Another signal of workplace discrimination is if your employer isolates or separates certain employees from others and gives them specific tasks based on their characteristics. Example. Your boss always asks Linda to sweep up while her male colleagues are assigned more technical tasks even though they all have the same qualifications.

The first step in fighting employment discrimination is knowing what is happening in the workplace and what to look for. These are ways to identify some of the more common forms of workplace discrimination. Being aware of these things at work can help you contact an employment discrimination lawyer. A consumer lawyer with employment discrimination experience can also help as both involve fighting against injustice and holding people accountable for when they treat others unfairly.

Always document your experiences at work with specific dates, locations, and witnesses. Save emails, texts, and other evidence of discrimination. And remember that discrimination can happen during work hours, in the break room, at the company holiday party or summer picnic, after work at the after-work happy hour or baby shower, or on the phone after work. Employment discrimination can happen to anyone and by anyone – a colleague, a boss, a client, or a line worker. It can happen at a construction site, a warehouse, a board meeting, a trading floor, or a lab.

Remember, no matter who you are or where you are, what you do, you deserve a fair and respectful work environment, and laws are designed to protect you from discrimination.