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Four Main Forms Of Workplace Discrimination


Workplace discrimination can happen to anyone, of any creed, at any age. While we know that there are protected classes included in our state and federal discrimination statutes, what many people do not realize is that there are four main types of workplace discrimination. These forms of discrimination are direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination is one of the more obvious ways discrimination can occur. Often, direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfairly because of:

  • A characteristic that includes them in a protected class.
  • A characteristic of someone they are directly associated with, such as a family member or friend, that makes that person part of a protected group.
  • A characteristic they are perceived to have, even if it is not factually correct.

More often than not, direct discrimination will be intentionally done to an employee based upon their status in a protected group.

Indirect Discrimination

Less common than direct discrimination, indirect discrimination is often not done intentionally. Commonly, indirect discrimination is the result of a rule or policy which is meant to apply to everyone, but in fact, does impose discriminatory conduct against some members of a protected class.

This may be visible in employee mandates for uniforms, activity, etc. which may place some employees at a disadvantage or in an area of grey which can be problematic for them. While an employer may not intend to discriminate against a group, if they fail to adjust their policies once the discrimination has been made known, there is a greater chance for a lawsuit.


When we think of workplace harassment, we often think of sexual harassment in the form of unwanted advances by a supervisor, manager, or coworker. However, harassment can take many forms.

The main legal distinction of harassment in the workplace is that the unwarranted and unwelcomed conduct must be done with the purpose of violating or humiliating the victim, while also creating a hostile environment.

Harassment may include:

  • Bullying
  • Gossip
  • Inappropriate comments, suggestions, and interactions
  • Excluding a coworker from meetings or events because of their status in a protected group

While workplace banter is one thing, when the comments make the workplace hostile or that the employee cannot do their work, harassment is likely the cause.

Retaliation – Workplace Discrimination

Known in the United Kingdom as victimization, retaliation occurs when an employee speaks out against discriminatory or unlawful conduct in good faith. Retaliation may occur from any of the following incidents:

  • Allegation of discrimination
  • Supporting a coworker who has alleged discrimination
  • Providing evidence related to a complaint
  • Raising a grievance to a supervisor or HR

Retaliation may take the shape of loss of wages, hours, being denied promotion or time off, unfair treatment, and more.

No matter the form of discrimination you are facing in the workplace, it is important to speak out against these injustices. And we’re here to help.

Brown Kwon & Lam: New York Employment Discrimination and Workplace Discrimination

If you are a victim of employment discrimination in a New York workplace, know that you do not have to stand for it. At Brown Kwon & Lam, our attorneys will guide you through the legal process so you can recoup any of your losses incurred because of ongoing discrimination. Contact us today for a free consultation.