Signs of discrimination at work

January 08, 2023  •  Reading Time: 6 min.

Workplace discrimination: 7 signs that you are experiencing employment discrimination

Discrimination tactics have many faces, and workplace discrimination is more common than you might think! There are some important signs that indicate you are being discriminated at work or that a discriminatory act is taking place. If you are facing discrimination or harassment at your place of work, an employee may take action against their employer! There are federal anti-discrimination laws, and you may also seek the help of an employment discrimination lawyer. For more information about discriminatory tactics, please check out the following article.

men looking at female rival

How can you tell if you are being discriminated against in the workplace?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. This means that it may be against the law for you to be treated unfairly or differently at work because you have a disability or are a woman, for example.

Learn more about harassment by employers or workers:

What are 7 signs that you are being discriminated against at work?

These are 7 common signs of being discriminated against at work:

1. Weird or suspicious questions during the interview

Are there any strange or suspicious questions asked during the hiring process, such as simply improper questions to job applicants, offensive remarks, or assumptions, such as those related to gender identity, age, or disability? For example, if you are over 45 years old and your prospective employer suddenly makes statements about your age during the interview process, this may be early warning signs of a discriminatory atmosphere in the workplace. Another example of an illegal hiring practice would be when an employer refused to hire an applicant because of a foreign accent.

2. Demeaning communication

In discriminatory work environments, you will often notice a demeaning tone in your interactions with colleagues. If you are spoken to in a harsh or belittling tone, or if offensive jokes and comments are made at your expense (especially regarding protected classes such as race, gender, religion, age or sexual orientation), this could be an indication of discrimination. Derogatory communication, a harsh or demeaning tone and unfair treatment does not belong in a workplace and is not something you have to tolerate! It is very important that all team members feel safe and respected at work, regardless of who they are or how they identify.

3. Remarks on race, gender and sexual orientation or a lack of diversity

Are there comments in your workplace about your age, race, gender identity or sexual orientation? Such comments or statements have no place in the workplace unless they are part of an educational and inclusive meeting on the topic. Also, does the company lack diversity in its workforce? For example, if you notice that the company only hires employees of the same race, age, gender or other demographic characteristics, there could be a discriminatory culture.

4. Age discrimination

Such discriminatory treatment exists, for example, if a job advertisement explicitly seeks applicants of a certain age group. Different salary levels and unequal pay also constitute discrimination on the basis of age. The same applies if employees who are “too young” or “too old” are passed over for promotion. Age discrimination also takes place when supervisors make assumptions about the technical knowledge of older adults. Or when colleagues make derogatory remarks or jokes about people in a certain age group. These can all be a sign of discrimination.

young woman correcting senior woman

5. Unequal pay

Did you know that it is your right to discuss your salary? All employees are entitled to this right, and it is protected by federal law. It allows you to find out if pay discrimination is taking place in your place of work by talking to colleagues. Perhaps it is very surprising to learn that a colleague in the same position and with the same experience as you earns much more? This unequal pay for equal work is a clear sign of discrimination.

6. Unfair promotions

All workers should have a fair chance to be promoted if they deserve it. So you could be facing job discrimination if you’ve worked hard for a number of years and have the skills for a higher position, but keep getting passed over. Take a look at the structure of the company: Do only men occupy managerial positions and do women remain in administrative positions? If you have demonstrated that you have the skills and interest to take on a higher position and are overlooked, this could be a sign of discriminatory practices.

7. Unfair disciplinary action

This happens when unjust criticism or unfair disciplinary action is taken against an employee. Sometimes the harassers are just acting out of an unconscious bias. Other employers use this strategy to build a paper trail and therefore a case and then have an employee terminated.

How can you prove discrimination in the workplace?

There are two types of evidence that can be used here:

  • Direct evidence

Direct evidence of discriminatory action includes statements made by managers or supervisors directly linking the adverse action taken against you to your status as a protected person. Such evidence may be in the form of oral statements or statements in letters, an e-mail, or in memos.

  • Indirect evidence (circumstantial evidence)

Because the likelihood of being able to present direct evidence is often relatively low, circumstantial evidence may be presented. This can be anything beyond direct statements by your employer that raises a presumption of discriminatory conduct.

What can you do if you are facing workplace discrimination?

There are certain actions you can take to improve your situation:

  • Seek legal advice. An attorney can advise you of your rights, assess your situation, and help you move forward. Try to document any discriminatory incidents as soon as they happen. Record what happened, when it happened, who was involved, and who witnessed the incident.
  • You can also discuss your concerns with supervisors first, but only if they are not involved. Typically, Human Resources is an employee’s first point of contact if they feel they have been disadvantaged. However, if HR does not respond, you should contact the EEOC or state employment agency.
  • The final step is to file charges in federal court. In this case, you first submit a signed statement claiming that your employer has been discriminatory at work and that you intend to take action against it.
signing a business proposal


What is considered discrimination in the workplace?

Employment discrimination generally occurs when an applicant or employee is treated differently or less favorably by an employer or other employees.

What are examples of workplace discrimination?

– Gender discrimination
– Discrimination based on marital status
– Genetic information discrimination
– Refusal to make a reasonable workplace change on the basis of belief or disability

What are the protected classes?

Certain classes are part of a protected class: An employer may not discriminate a team member or an employee on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, or disability.

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