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What are the most common forms of workplace discrimination?

Workplace discrimination remains a pressing issue, manifesting in various forms and affecting countless individuals in their professional environments. Understanding the most common types of workplace discrimination is important so that workers can more effectively recognize when their rights have been violated. 

Not every kind of discrimination is unlawful. For example, federal law doesn’t safeguard workers against discrimination that may occur as a result of applicants’ and workers’ weight and appearance. The following are the most common kinds of workplace discrimination that occur in the U.S. that are unlawful at the federal level.

Race and color discrimination

This type of discrimination occurs when an employee is treated unfavorably because of their race or the color of their skin. It, like every other kind of discrimination on this list, can manifest in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination decisions and virtually any other employment context. 

Gender and sex discrimination

Gender discrimination concerns the unfavorable treatment of an individual due to their gender or sex. This type of discrimination often manifests as unequal pay for equal work (pay disparity between men and women), pregnancy discrimination and barriers to advancement in roles traditionally dominated by one gender. Discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or transgender status is legally considered a type of gender/sex discrimination. 

Age discrimination

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals 40 years of age or older from discrimination based on age. 

Disability discrimination

Disability discrimination occurs when employers or co-workers treat an individual unfavorably due to a real or perceived disability. This type of mistreatment also includes failing to provide reasonable accommodations that would allow an employee to perform their job or participate in employment-related activities.

Other common kinds of discrimination that are prohibited at the federal level include religious discrimination and national origin discrimination. While less common, federal law also prohibits employment discrimination based on someone’s genetic information. 

Workers who are concerned about their right to a discrimination-free application and/or work environment may benefit from learning more about their rights and options. When doing so, it’s important to keep in mind that state and local laws may offer additional protections.