What to Do when Facing Discrimination in the Workplace

Have you ever been discriminated against, especially in the workplace, but were unable to react or say anything? It can get terribly difficult to know how to respond in the face of prejudice—and it can even arouse feelings of guilt or regret from not protecting yourself.

But the thing is, workplace discrimination in the US is still widespread, despite the many laws enacted to guard against it. Most of these are subtle, everyday behavior, so it can be hard to know what to do.

Not to worry, though! There are actual steps you can take to protect yourself from prejudice in the workplace. Just follow these simple measures:

  • Step 1: Know your rights in the workplace
  • Step 2: Look for potential signs of discrimination
  • Step 3: Learn about methods of reprisal
  • Step 4: Choose your course of action
  • Step 5: Document the problem
  • Step 6: Crosscheck your concerns against your legal rights
  • Step 7: Discuss your issues with your employer

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Know your rights in the workplace

Depending on what your profession is, where you live in, or how large your company is, there are legal protections you may be entitled to, such as the right to work in an environment free of harassment. It is important to start with identifying what these are, and evaluating your current situation in the company against them.

Look for potential signs of discrimination

Observe if subtle forms of discrimination are occurring in the workplace. Evidence of this phenomenon may include minorities being passed up for promotion, receiving lesser wage, having a high turnover rate, or recounting personal stories of discrimination. Take note of these, especially when they happen to you.

Learn about methods of reprisal

Reprisal refers to retaliation for an injury which is intended to inflict at least as much injury in return. This can usually be observed when an employer takes adverse action against employees who tried to assert their rights.

Example: Denying a promotion for a minority employee because of engaging in protected activity

Choose a course of action

If you believe you may have been a victim of discrimination, gather evidence and answer the following questions:

  1. Where did the alleged discriminatory event occur?
  2. Who allegedly discriminated against you?
  3. What did the person say or do that’s different from how they treat others?
  4. Why do you feel that the person discriminated against you? Is there a clear link between their actions or words and your protected status?

Document the problem

Take notes of key conversations and events that exhibit discriminatory behavior. Note what happened, as well as the time, date, and names of people who were present.

It might also help to ask coworkers you trust if they witnessed other events that can support your claims. Enlist their help by asking them to also document, sign, and date what they observed or heard.

Crosscheck your concerns against your legal rights

It helps to know and understand that the law is on your side. If you know your rights in the workplace, you’ll be more confident in presenting your problem.

Discuss your issues with your employer

Ask to meet with key people in the company who can, and should address the problem. Here are a couple of tips to guide you in your meeting:

  1. Understand the grievance procedure or appeal process
  2. Discuss the situation with your employer
  3. Stick to the facts
  4. Remain calm
  5. Talk about steps to take moving forward
  6. Follow up, especially if you don’t feel your concern hasn’t been addressed yet
  7. Understand what termination means

If you think you’re being discriminated against, always remember that you have a right to a workplace environment that treats its employees equally. However, you must still actively address the issues you experience—take the necessary steps to protect yourself, and hopefully, help make your workplace a more inclusive and diverse one.

Dr. Cherry

Cherry A. Collier, Ph.D. is an Organizational Psychologist, Strategist, Executive Coach, and Diversity, Inclusion, & Belonging Consultant for Personality Matters, Inc. Her science-based approach and brain-based techniques, propel people, teams, and organizations to build bridges and work from the inside out to achieve their goals. Dr. Cherry specializes in emotional intelligence, neuroscience, leadership development, and DEI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She received her Doctorate and Master of Science in Applied Social/Organizational Psychology from the University of Georgia and Graduated Magna Cum Laude from Spelman College. She is the author of more than twenty-five Human Behavior related books for leaders, executives, and coaches. Dr. Cherry is often called the DEI Whisperer because she has a unique ability to fiercely “hold the space” and be totally present which creates a psychologically safe environment that allows others all the space they need to fully express themselves. She listens to others with head, heart and hands approach so that they are heard, seen and understood.