What Constitutes As Discrimination In The Workplace?

concerned business woman at computer

What Constitutes As Discrimination In The Workplace?

Despite the knowledge that society has gained about recognizing discrimination in the workplace, employees are still unsure of whether or not they’ve experienced indirect discrimination or not. Before an employee can know what constitutes discrimination, employees need to know what their employee rights are and who the law protects from discrimination.

Legally Protected Classes

Employment discrimination based on any legally protected class is illegal and subject to potential lawsuit. People are part of the legally protected classes receive a number of protections from federal, state, and local law. Below is a list of legally protected classes.

  • race
  • color
  • national origin
  • religion
  • gender
  • disability
  • age
  • GED rather than high school diploma
  • need of service animal
  • military or veteran


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects minority employees from discrimination. Employers should not make employment decisions based on a person’s skin color or race. If two different people perform similarly well and the boss only promotes the light skinned employee, this is likely discrimination, especially if the pattern continues.


The law lays out the equal rights of men and women in the workplace. Neither gender should experience negative or positive employment action simply based on gender. Laws that prohibit discrimination due to gender also include discrimination based on pregnancy or marital status. Sexual harassment is also illegal and does not permit sexually inappropriate language or behavior in the workplace.


The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, in 1967, outlined protections for employees over 40 in the work place. Young and old employees should be treated with the same benefits in training, compensation, job assignments, and training decisions. Employers who discriminate against workers who are over 40 may face legal action.


In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act obligated employers to consider people with disabilities for employment roles based on their qualifications and not their disabilities. In fact, an employer cannot simply refuse to hire a person due to their disability, and the law forces employers to offer certain accommodations to those employees. Only in some cases can an employer be released from offering reasonable accommodation.

What Actions Are Often Discriminatory?

Discriminatory actions often become grounds for a discrimination lawsuit or complaint when an employer takes adverse employment action towards an employee. When that employee recognizes a pattern of behavior that reveals discrimination, that employee may very well win their case. The law even tries to protect job applicants from employment discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that harassment is any unwelcome conduct experienced by a legally protected class. When offensive conduct becomes so severe or so continual that the work environment becomes hostile to any reasonable individual, this harassment should be complained about to a manager or HR department.

Actions often considered to be harassment can be any of the following.

  • Continued derogatory comments about sex, race, disability, age, etc.
  • Physical intimidation or assaults
  • Verbal or physical threats

Actions that aren’t considered harassment.

  • Isolated incidents
  • Petty slights or annoyances
  • Rudeness

What Are My Employee Rights?

Watch For Employment Discrimination

Employment discrimination is mostly easily recognized in certain situations. But legally, to discriminate in any of the following situations is against the law. When you know your employee rights alongside where it’s illegal to discriminate in employment, you are much better equipped to pursue your rights.

1. Hiring

Employers must be cautious in how they go about seeking job applicants and seeking information on these individuals. Some job advertisements can even be discriminatory and against the law. Employers cannot choose to hire or not hire an applicant based on their legally protected class.

2. Promotion and Demotions

When employees are selected for either a promotion or demotion, sometimes discrimination occurs. This is most easily recognized when a boss consistently promotes a certain type of employee while ignoring an equally (or more)qualified employee who might be a different race, gender, age. In the same way, employees demoted for seemingly no reasons but who share a legally protected class might be facing discrimination.

3. Segregation

Employees who are classified according to their legally protected class and experience lesser job assignments due to their status could have a viable complaint. Segregation of races or ages or genders is discriminatory. When this influences the work place and creates a hostile work environment, this is illegal.

4. FMLA or Short Term Disability Leave

Employers have been known to discriminate against employees for using their rightful  FMLA leave. Sometimes, this looks like an employee using FMLA leave for a breast reduction or pregnancy leave, but a male supervisor might belittle the female employee for using their leave even though it’s an approved reason. Violating the law by not offering FMLA leave or harassing an employee for use of FMLA leave is likely grounds for a case.

5. Retaliation

Sometimes when an employee notices ongoing discrimination, they may file a complaint. Filing a complaint is a protected right of employees, but employers sometimes retaliate against employees by demoting them, placing them in performance improvement plan, or making work more difficult for them. Retaliation is illegal.

Keep An Eye Out For Discrimination

  • Unwarranted dismissal
  • Segregation
  • Unequal pay
  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Expected sexual favors
  • Unfair project assignment
  • Derogatory statements
  • Unequal workplace policy
  • Unfair workplace conditions

Employment discrimination of legally protected classes is illegal. When you recognize a pattern of discrimination, your first line of defense should be following company policy on reporting discrimination. If your employer does nothing to resolve the problem, begin documenting the events and contact an employment lawyer. An employment lawyer understands what situations are against the law and can help guide you through the legal system to pursue your rights.


If you have experienced employment discrimination, contact an employment discrimination lawyer who will know how to navigate your case and your rights under the law.

Don’t hesitate, talk to an attorney: (412) 626-5626 or lawyer@lawkm.com.