How to Handle Discrimination in the Workplace

Recently we had a client who shared their story with us on how they were left with little choice but to leave a role, due to the discrimination they faced under new management of a job they had worked for several years. Why? Because they were part of the LGBTQ+ community. The world has made great progress in recent years to reduce discrimination. Despite this, the bias held by others can still be found today. In the spirit of Pride Month, we will discuss how you can handle discrimination in the workplace at any level in the organisation.

What should an employee do to manage workplace discrimination?

Be it a co-worker or yourself dealing with discrimination, never facilitate suffering in silence. If applicable, attempt to discuss the issue with the co-worker to see of you can assist in any form. Simply showing signs of support will go a long way. If one exists, talk to a manager you can trust, such as the HR manager to deal with the causes of the discrimination. When the issue is coming from an external source such as a different company or customers, bring the issue to the attention of your superiors, unless you feel comfortable and qualified to confront the issue yourself. Don’t be on standby, if you witness discrimination talking place, stand up for the victim where you can.

Watch your language and look out for indirect discrimination. In some cases staff might not even realize their discriminatory behaviour. In the event of discrimination coming from the top level, attempt to communicate the issues this is causing with the employer. Discrimination is considered a form of harassment, which is outlawed in most nations. If the issues persist, consider contacting The Workplace Contact Unit at the HSA: Telephone: 1890 289 389 or email: For those outside Ireland, a quick search will reveal support networks for you to avail of. Despite procedures existing for managing high-level staff discriminating, if it is having a significant effect on you it may be a better solution to search for a more inclusive workplace.

What should an employer do to manage discrimination against staff members?

When dealing with discrimination, employers should aim to be preventative rather than reactive. This is to stop an issue occurring before it can happen. This starts with ensuring there is nothing potentially exclusionary about the workplace to begin with, including company policies and general employee behaviour.

Employers recognizing signs of abuse of this kind should aim to deal with this issue promptly, as not only is this bound to effect productivity, teamwork and employee satisfaction, but employers may also be liable for any harassment suffered by staff. Set policies in place, let it be known that discrimination of any kind is not acceptable in the workplace, be it LGBTQ+, racial, religious, gender or otherwise. Have disciplinary procedures set in place in the event of this occurring, so that the matter can be dealt with “by the book”.

Lead by example, equality should be clearly demonstrated to all staff members. Take note on how staff communicate with each other and whether there is any notable exclusions, this may reveal underlying harassment of various kinds. It is important that the workplace remains a safe, positive and productive environment for everyone.

When conducting performance reviews, encourage staff to discuss any personal issues they may be facing at the workplace. This can allow for employees to express issues that may otherwise go under the radar, and allow them to feel heard and appreciated. Dealing with an issue an employee has been managing silently can greatly improve their ability to work, benefiting all.

In the event of discrimination coming in from outside the workplace, your team should always be favored. A discriminatory client should not be excused simply for their profitability. In the long run, it will only result in higher employee turnover and lack of public support. Do not accept inappropriate behaviour from customers even if it means losing the sale.

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