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Different Types of Workplace Discrimination + Examples

Workplace DiscriminationWorkplace Discrimination
min read
September 7, 2023

In an ideal world, employees from all different walks of life would feel welcome in the workplace. But that’s not always the case—which is why it’s so important to have conversations around workplace discrimination.

Gaining a better understanding of workplace discrimination is the first step to ensuring it doesn’t happen—whether you’re a small business owner trying to protect your employees, an employee trying to determine whether you’re experiencing discrimination at work, or a job applicant evaluating a job ad for discriminatory language.

So what, exactly, is workplace discrimination? What are the different types of discrimination in the workplace? And what protections are in place to protect job candidates and employees from discrimination?

What Is Workplace Discrimination?

Discrimination is the practice of treating someone differently (and, more specifically, negatively) based on characteristics like their age, gender, or race. 

Workplace discrimination, then, is the practice of discrimination in the workplace—or, in other words, employers acting unfavorably to job candidates and/or employees based on certain characteristics (we’ll cover a full list of those characteristics in a moment).

In the United States, workplace discrimination is illegal—and there are a number of laws in place to protect employees from discrimination at work.

What Are the Different Types of Discrimination in the Workplace?

There are seven main types of discrimination in the workplace, including:

Keep in mind that discrimination can take place at any point during the employment process—including in job ads or postings, throughout the recruitment process, while employed with a company, or during the termination/separation process.

What are the Laws on Workplace Discrimination?

Currently, there are a number of federal laws in place—enforced by the the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—that protect workers from discrimination in the workplace. These anti-discrimination laws include:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against another person based on race, religion, color, national origin, genetic information, or sex. An amendment to Title VII, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, makes it illegal to discriminate against people experiencing pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical conditions. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal for a company to fire an employee based solely on their sexual orientation—extending protection to LGBTQ+ employees.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990

The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against qualified employees based on disability. Under the ADA, employers must also make reasonable accommodations to create equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967

Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, it’s illegal to discriminate against a current or potential employee based on age. 

Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963

Under this Equal Pay Act, employers must give male and female employees equal pay for equal work. The law illegalized gender-based wage discrimination—or, in other words, made it illegal for employers to pay men and women different salaries for the same role based on gender alone.

In addition to these federal laws, many states also have additional state laws on the books to protect workers from employment discrimination. For example, the New York State Human Rights Law expands protection based on additional criteria, making it illegal to discriminate based on marital status, familial status, military status, gender identity or gender expression, or whether someone is a victim of domestic violence.


It’s also important to note that, under these discrimination laws, it’s not only illegal to discriminate against someone under a protected class directly; it’s also illegal to discriminate against someone based on their relationship to someone under said protected class. For example, it would be illegal for an employer not to hire a candidate because their child has a disability or their partner is a certain race or has a certain set of religious beliefs.

What Are Some Examples of Workplace Discrimination?

Even if you understand workplace discrimination in theory, it isn’t always easy to spot it in practice. What, exactly, constitutes discrimination?

Let’s take a look at a few examples of discriminatory practices to give you a sense of how unlawful discrimination might manifest in the workplace:

Age Discrimination

Race Discrimination

Sex Discrimination

Pregnancy Discrimination

Religious Discrimination

Disability Discrimination

Retaliation Discrimination

Discrimination vs. Harassment

Discrimination can take many forms, like passing over a candidate for a promotion based on race or refusing to hire someone based on their age. But one of the most aggressive forms of discrimination occurs when an employee (or group of employees) actively harasses another employee (or group of employees).

Harassment is a form of discrimination that’s defined as “active pressure or intimidation.” Harassment can take a variety of forms, including using racial harassment (like calling a colleague a racial slur) or sexual harassment (for example, a male employee continually making sexually suggestive comments to a female co-worker). 

EEOC Complaints by Discrimination Type

In 2020 (the most recent year with data), 67,448 discrimination charges were filed with the EEOC. Let’s take a look at how those complaints break down:

Arm Yourself with Knowledge about Workplace Discrimination

Understanding workplace discrimination is a must—for employers and employees alike. And now that you understand the basics of workplace discrimination, you’re armed with the information you need to stop discrimination when you see it—and create safer, more inclusive workplaces in the process.

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