Discrimination at work

Let’s avoid discrimination at work. We have a lot of diversity at work, different cultures and people with different characteristics. People need to be fully aware of their rights. When someone treats you unfairly because of your national origin, your race, religion, a disability or sexuality – that is discrimination. Employers need to be fully aware of discrimination issues and create a safe and caring workplace, with less complaints, more satisfied staff and reduced turnover.

Is constant yelling at someone a form of discrimination?

Only if you are a target – being singled out, based on a protective characteristic. Yelling at everyone is not good workplace behaviour but is not illegal. Yelling at work might, however, lead to a person’s termination if it is a constant performance management problem.

If a manager complains about ‘foreign staff’ working in a call centre not being understood by clients… is this discrimination? Is it discrimination if that manager chooses not to select foreign staff for that call centre?

There are two issues here – recruitment/selection and performance management.

Selection: The fact that the applicant is foreign is not the key issue – focus on competencies. Does the person speak/write English or languages to a certain level? Does the person have the skills to handle complaints? A rigorous selection and recruitment process is needed (eg. use WORK TESTS for skills – role plays) to establish the level of skills required. Don’t assume and generalise about the behaviour of “foreign” or specific cultures – everyone is an individual. Managers should never allow any perceptions or stereotypical attitudes about people due to their race, sex, and so on adversely influence the way they are treated.

The performance management issue is about maintaining a certain level of performance which is for all staff in the call centre. If there are more complaints for one individual then that person needs feedback, coaching and ongoing poor performance should be managed constructively for all staff in the same way – irrespective of country of origin.

What if a manager only wants to hire a woman for a role?

In this case the manager will have to focus on competencies and qualities required for the job, not whether or not the person is a female. Being specific about the skills will ensure the right person is selected. So when the manager can specify more detail about the qualities required, eg. ability to multi-task, more supportive, sensitive, clean, neat, the focus can be on finding a person who can do that and it doesn’t have to necessarily be a female.

What should I do if I feel I am being discriminated against?

Firstly, we all need to understand what are the bases for discrimination: race, sex/gender, sexuality, age (younger or older), marital status, even presumed homosexual or transgender status, pregnancy, parenthood, breastfeeding, impairment, religious belief or activity, political opinion, or maybe because you associate with or live with someone who has any of these attributes. (So everyone likely has more than one reason to be discriminated against!)

Managers should handle all discrimination reports promptly. Ideally everyone should be able to get help from their own HR department – but it’s not always possible and some people feel that it might make it worse. There are various organisations in each state or country a person can complain to if they have been discriminated against – these are easy to find on the internet or by asking an HR manager or union.


  • We need to develop a workplace culture of tolerance and understanding.
  • Managers and employers need to behave fairly and treat people well.
  • Managers must know that THEY may be liable for the behaviour of their staff.
  • Even limiting access to promotion is illegal in some countries.
  • There are some exceptions – eg. disability or strength (IF they cannot perform the tasks required).
  • Managers must communicate standards, demonstrate positive behaviours and take steps to prevent discrimination.
  • Support anyone that becomes a target of discrimination.

Eve Ash has produced a wide range of resources available through Seven Dimensions for workplace excellence. There are two outstanding DVD programs to help organisations provide discrimination awareness training for their staff and managers Q&A – Discrimination in the Workplace and Workplace Discrimination: Roles and Responses for Supervisors and Managers.


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