Making claims about workplace discrimination can seem scary and complex, but when defined and broken down into steps to take to resolve your particular situation, it is easier to navigate and understand. The most crucial parts of workplace discrimination are to understand how to know if you have suffered from discrimination, some common examples of this premise, and the effects of the like.

To discriminate against someone means to treat an individual either differently or less favorably for a certain reason. The definition of discrimination in the workplace essentially revolves around an employee receiving less than favorable treatment based on their protected characteristics. Discrimination can take a number of different forms, such as hiring, firing, referrals, raises, and everything in-between. From racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and even age discrimination, behaviors and actions by employees can be categorized in a number of ways. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects employees from employment discrimination due to race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (age 40 or older), or genetic information. The EEOC protects against employment discrimination which can include a number of things.

The EEOC protects against employment discrimination when it involves particular instances. These instances could be unfair treatment, harassment, denial of a reasonable workplace change, improper questions, improper disclosure, and retaliation.  

There are two main types of discrimination, direct and vicarious liability. Direct liability discrimination is when an employer promotes certain types of discrimination within an organization and all employees are affected. Vicarious liability occurs when an employee discriminates against another employee and this makes the company liable.

There are a number of circumstances in which an employee may be discriminated against. Discrimination is not always direct. Discrimination may be indirect, intentional, or unintentional as well. Some circumstances could be represented in the following. 

Lacking Diversity in the Workplace:

If a workplace lacks diversity, especially in supervisor or managerial roles, this could be a sign of direct liability discrimination.

Inadequate Discipline:

When an employer discovers that someone in their company is discriminating against another employee, it is important they discipline that employee appropriately.


Communication can mean the way employers talk to employees or the way that jokes or conversations are handled. When an employer or employee makes offensive jokes to another employee, this could be considered a sign of direct or intentional discrimination.

Fixed Roles:

When only certain genders hold certain roles in the workplace, this could be due to the fact that the company is acting with direct discriminatory intent. If there are more women in secretarial roles, and more males in managerial roles and hiring and firing are affected by this notion, this could be a sign of discrimination in these functions.


When an employer discriminates against an employee based on workload, this may be because they are either loading someone up with too much or too little work. This could involve giving another employee your work and commission due to discrimination based on a protected factor or giving an employee far too much work, so they appear unable to work proficiently in their work environment. These targeted attempts at discrimination are often to get an employee fired or make them feel less desirable.

It is important to discern when you are being discriminated against legally and when you are not. What crosses the line from mistreatment to discrimination? Certain examples of mistreatment which crossed the line of discrimination may help one understand this notion.

Example 1: 

Rejection of applicants with ethnic names which may reveal ancestry or not giving them a call back when they are fully qualified for a job position is discriminatory.

Example 2: 

A new mother could be discriminated against prior to taking maternity leave or returning to work after having a baby. If she were to apply for a new position or a better position and was denied for someone with less experience, this could be discrimination. If after questioning the employer for reasoning they could not give any reason besides her current position with her baby and need for a more dedicated individual, this is likely discrimination.

Example 3: 

Individuals with any type of disability may be discriminated against. This could be in the form of less wages or lack of appropriate accommodations. Employers are required to provide accommodations for employees and prospective employees with disabilities.

More than determining when you are being discriminated against, it is also important to determine the effects of discrimination in the workplace. Effects of discrimination may be in the form of:

  • Exclusion of a candidate from the hiring process
  • Termination
  • Denial of employee compensation or certain benefits
  • Denial of retirement or retirement options
  • Denial of disability or maternity leave
  • Loss of shift
  • Favoritism with hiring, promotions, and allocation of raises

If you are dealing with workplace discrimination, there are steps you can take to hold your employer accountable and ensure your rights are protected. While this type of discrimination can seem difficult to report, it is essential to take action to create the necessary change. Employers have a legal obligation to treat all employees fairly. While one can get an attorney right away when they feel discriminated against, some steps can be done on your own while other steps can be best completed with the assistance of an attorney.

The following is a general list of steps to take in dealing with workplace discrimination.

Educate Yourself on Your Legal Rights:

Many laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace. There are quite a few federal laws that prohibit workplace discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in the workplace. More laws that prohibit discrimination are the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Many state laws prohibit workplace discrimination but may vary from state to state. The EEOC refers to these agencies that enforce laws prohibiting employment discrimination as Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs). State laws may offer broader protection than the laws enforced by the EEOC. To research state laws look to the state statutes or legal code and look for the descriptors relating to fair employment law, equal opportunity, and similar topics. These laws are available at law libraries, state libraries, and the internet, generally. The EEOC has defined five basic rights for job applicants and employees who work in the United States. These five rights are:

  1. The right to work free of discrimination
  2. The right to work free of harassment
  3. The right to complain about job discrimination without punishment
  4. The right to request workplace changes for your religion or disability
  5. The right to keep your medical information private

Make Employer Aware:

If you feel like you are being discriminated against, it is likely that these acts are not yet recognized by your employer. Whether it is formally or informally, you need to make your supervisor aware that you feel discrimination is taking place. An informal report could mean a conversation with a boss or human services representative. This can help your employer understand that you feel your rights are being violated and that the company should address the actions or behavior of the employee. Once your employer knows about the discrimination, they have a responsibility to correct the situation and protect you from future discrimination.

Document Everything:

As soon as you begin experiencing any discrimination, it is important to document any notable events as accurately as possible. Make a diary of incidents of discrimination or harassment that you experience in the workplace. It is important to note the date, approximate time, parties involved, witnesses, location, and all details of the inappropriate speech or conduct. Along with making a record, it is also important to keep any objects that were a part of the discrimination. These objects could be pictures posted, things left for you or given to you that could be construed as discriminatory or harassing. This documentation is essential to identifying trends in behavior to prove your case in the court of law. This combination of direct and circumstantial evidence will be needed in order to have a good case.

Consider Your Options:

Review the company’s anti-discrimination policy. The fact that an employer has such a policy, acknowledges that it will not act in a discriminatory manner or condone such behavior from any of its employees within the workplace context. Retain a copy of your company handbook that contains the discrimination policy.

Report the Discrimination:

If you do not promptly report the discrimination, this could affect your rights. Further than making an employer aware of workplace discrimination is an official report of the misconduct. You could also report the misconduct to the human resources department. When reporting, it is important to include all documented evidence of the discrimination to your company so they can fully evaluate your claim according to their procedures. You should ask the HR department to investigate and provide you with a written report following the workplace discrimination evaluation. If this first option fails, and the HR department decides to dismiss your claim, or you cannot file an official report, you may decide to turn to federal options for your protection and safety.

Consider All Outcomes:

The laws enforced by the EEOC protect employees from being punished, treated differently, or harassed at work because you report or help someone else report workplace discrimination. This right is the right to be protected from retaliation. When an individual files a claim with the EEOC, they are protected against retaliation regardless of validity or reasonableness of the allegations of the claim of discrimination.

Get Outside Help:

Dealing with discrimination in the workplace can make one feel trapped. If you have been harassed or discriminated against at work, it may be in your best interest to get in touch with an employment lawyer. To hold an employer accountable, it may be best to file an employment law claim with an attorney to get legal compensation in a court of law from your place of employment. While you are still employed, hiring an employment discrimination attorney could provide you with guidance and allow the employer the chance to stop the misconduct. If you are no longer employed, an attorney may be able to assist in obtaining compensation for discrimination including but not limited to: emotional distress, lost wages, reinstatement fees, and more costs. An employment attorney can also be there for you throughout the process of obtaining unemployment benefits and walk you through the legal path of recovery for your wrongful termination.

File a Claim:

Reporting workplace discrimination could mean contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It is important to take note of local, state, and federal guidelines when filing this petition. Also, rules change slightly for age discrimination. State agencies that work in this area are referred to as Fair Employment Practice Agencies (FEPAs). FEPAs and the EEOC have work-sharing agreements to prevent duplication in processing charges by utilizing the dual filing technique. If you file with either the state or federal agency, the charge will be filed with the other agency automatically.

The Cochran Firm

Our lawyers have extensive experience advocating on behalf of workers in nationwide collective actions involving thousands of employees. We are also here to help combat instances of unfair and illegal treatment by employers. If your employer is in violation of one or more of the federal wage and hour laws, the extra time you have worked or the rest and meal breaks you have missed can add up quickly. You may be entitled to back pay or additional overtime. If you have worked the hours, you deserve to be compensated accordingly.

To protect yourself from unfair or illegal treatment in the workplace, it is important to understand your rights and have a dedicated and experienced advocate on your side. At The Cochran Firm, we are committed to providing you and your family quality representation throughout your employment claim.

If you or a loved one have been the victim of racial or gender discrimination and would like to learn more about your legal rights regarding discrimination, please contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at The Cochran Firm, with offices nationwide, today for your free, no-obligation consultation.




U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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