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Law Students on Workers' Rights Series

The Effects Of Workplace Discrimination

June 2, 2020

One in Three Workers Reports Experiencing Workplace Discrimination

By Precious Penny

Law Students on Workers’ Rights Series

The Law Students on Workers’ Rights series publishes essays from current and incoming students at some of the top law schools in the country. These essays, submitted for the Charles E. Joseph Employment Law Scholarship, address the question “What are the biggest challenges facing workers’ rights in the future?”

One of the most basic protected rights for workers is the “elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.” Unfortunately, rampant discrimination still affects thousands of employees each year. Over one-third of employed Americans over the age of eighteen reports having experienced some form of workplace discrimination, harassment, or bullying. For every victim that comes forward and reports discrimination, there are likely more suffering in silence because workers who report discriminatory acts fear loss or reduction in employment and other retaliatory measures. As society grows less tolerant and reports of discrimination continue, workplace discrimination will be the biggest issue for workers’ rights in the future.

Workplace discrimination has numerous detrimental effects. Discrimination leads to a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Discrimination—typically on the basis of race, genderage, religious affiliation, and/or sexual orientation, causes strife for minority and marginalized groups. Such overt discrimination is often based on the perceived notion that members of a certain marginalized group are inferior to their counterparts. Intentionally affecting minority or stigmatized groups, workplace discrimination purposefully limits the employment outcomes of thousands of people each year.

Discrimination is such a pressing problem for workers because despite how explicit it may feel for the victim, discriminatory practices are often deeply rooted in subtle prejudiced beliefs. Belief in racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation-based stereotypes leads to implicit bias. Stereotypes about personal and lifestyle choices and about religion, political affiliation, and marital status lead to workplace discrimination on an interpersonal level. Implicit bias and partiality are often difficult to prove. Because discriminatory practices continue to become seemingly “invisible” and unintended, they are very problematic for future workers.

Furthermore, refusing to ever address racial, ethnic, or gender demographics can lead to homogenous workplaces that lack diversity. Employers are beginning to seek “colorblind” hiring practices, never taking into account differences, or lack thereof, of their employees. Thus “trying to create a colorblind organizational culture may discourage open dialogue about differences when such dialogue could provide a constructive basis for encouraging diversity,” according to psychologists. Sometimes well-intentioned silence about these topics leads to increased tension in the workplace.

Discrimination causes physical and psychological pain to affected workers. Workplace discrimination is linked to depression, anxiety, and even manic and hostile behaviors. Physically, discrimination leads to an increased occurrence of migraines and stress-related ailments like high blood pressure, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Long-term studies have found a correlation between perceived discrimination and negative health effects even years after the discrimination took place. Discrimination also leads to limited hiring. Workers in discriminatory companies have stifled careers and little chance for advancement. Discrimination produces decreased wages as stigmatized groups never get hired, are kept at entry-level positions, or are offered less pay than their counterparts—creating a further wage gap for minorities.

While employees are most impacted by workplace discrimination, it also negatively affects businesses who participate in these practices. Workplace discrimination minimizes diversity and decreases innovation, collaboration, and communication. Writer Tim Robbins said, “Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.” While people are united by their similarities, differences amongst people give us a chance to learn new perspectives and insights.

No business will have clientele who are completely homogeneous, so employing people with varying backgrounds, outlooks and viewpoints is good for business. Diverse customers often prefer to work with diverse and inclusive companies. In fact, many people say they when considering establishments they want to do business with, they look at a company’s diversity. Hiring diverse employees is a good business practice that attracts not only new clients but new ideas.

Employees with different religious or political perspectives often have different perspectives when it comes to viewing and solving problems. By looking at the problem through a different lens, working with people with varying frameworks often leads to increased problem-solving, diverse thought-processes, and improved productivity as different people offer different approaches and viewpoints. The differing ideologies can lead to increased employee engagement and satisfaction and thus higher retention rates. Employment discrimination leads to a poor work culture where workers are unmotivated, unfocused, and uncommitted. Workers who are respected report being willing to work harder and longer hours.

In recruiting the best and brightest talent, it benefits companies to maintain diverse hiring practices. According to an employee survey, 67% of people seeking employment take a company’s diversity into consideration during the job application and acceptance processes. For a company that limits themselves by only hiring those applicants that fit certain demographics, they are also limiting their applicant pool, likely missing out on extremely qualified applicants. Hiring people of diverse backgrounds also helps to foster respect for those different from yourself. Respecting others is essential to cultivating a harmonious society. Non-discriminatory employment practices can lead to a greater understanding of different groups, so it is important to keep prejudice out of the workplace. Workplace discrimination leads to increased stress and marginalization for already stigmatized and minority groups in the workplace.

Employee discrimination will lead to a less heterogeneous and collaborative society. Our country is a melting pot of unique and diverse people and companies should try to reflect that diversity by actively seeking out and working to retain diverse hires. This practice supports workers’ rights and promotes equity, diversity, and inclusion of all people. Discrimination is the cause of pain for several thousand employees each year, and because it remains deeply rooted and hard to prove, it will be the biggest challenge to workers’ rights in the future.

Reflections from Charles Joseph

Today, workplace discrimination still represents a major challenge for workers’ rights. Discrimination keeps people from being hired and pushes people out of the workforce. And discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, and other protected categories not only harms workers – it also hurts employers, as Precious Penny astutely argues in her essay. By engaging in overt or covert discrimination, companies miss out on the benefits of diversity. As a result, strong discrimination protections benefit workers and employers. 

Precious Penny graduated from Howard University with magna cum laude honors. In her current role at the Federal Communications Commission, Penny implements equal employment opportunity policies and helps mediate employment disputes. In fall 2020, Penny will begin her law degree at Georgetown Law. She is the runner-up in the 2020 Charles E. Joseph Employment Law Scholarship.

Charles Joseph has over two decades of experience as an NYC employment lawyer. He is the founder of Working Now and Then and the founding partner of Joseph and Kirschenbaum, a firm that has recovered over $140 million for clients.

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