What is workplace discrimination? What are the main examples of workplace discrimination? How discrimination can affect physical and mental health of your employees? What are the main reasons for discrimination? Read the article to find out more.

Impact of workplace discrimination on employee wellbeing – table of content:

  1. What is workplace discrimination?
  2. Examples of workplace discrimination
  3. How discrimination can affect physical and mental health of your employees?
  4. Summary

What is workplace discrimination?

Accordingly to the current law it is illegal to discriminate against an employee based on characteristics such as: age, ethnic origin, skin color, disability, gender identity, nationality, place of birth, race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Discrimination means that an individual is treated unfairly in their workplace in relation to such aspects of employment as: recruitment, training, assignments, promotion, salary, and benefits.

There are many forms of discriminatory acts that can be observed in contemporary workplaces, some of those acts are only one-time incidents, other form continuous, never ending situations (harassment, bullying). Discrimination can occur not only in relation between an employer and his employee, but between employees as well.

There is no one way of discriminating – some mistreatment may be don even unintentionally due to the lack of awareness and knowledge. In spite of the form, severity or intentions, discrimination is extremely harmful for all parties: the business and the employees. Offensive, uncivil conduct always brings detrimental effect to productivity, efficiency and innovativeness of the company.

From the perspective of individual, who experiences discrimination, each occurrence of intimidation causes stress and can be linked with physical and mental health issues.

Examples of workplace discrimination

From fellow employees:

  • not listening, interrupting
  • ignoring, silent treatment
  • speaking with bad tone of voice
  • talking about somebody behind his back, gossiping
  • making humiliating remarks
  • showing gestures, making faces, eye rolling
  • not returning phone calls or e-mails
  • excluding somebody from activities
  • withholding information

During recruitment process:

  • suggesting preferred candidates in job advert
  • specifying age of candidates for job
  • removing potential candidates from recruitment
  • not providing accommodation for disabled candidates
  • creating gendered titles of job adverts

During work:

  • unequal access to training, referrals or assignments
  • glass ceiling, barriers in promotion
  • harsh discipline for one group of employees
  • unequal treatment related to performance management
  • unequal pay, no benefits
workplace discrimination

How discrimination can affect physical and mental health of your employees?

Experiencing discrimination has a serious impact on health of the employee. The list of health problems related to stress and bad treatment is long and includes: depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder. Individuals, that were treated unfairly at work may develop heart conditions and cortisol dysregulations. Long-term stress impacts health negatively and studies show that emotional issues may trigger heart attacks and sudden death.

Stress is a natural and automatic reaction of the body. Every time a person is faced with danger, real or illusionary, hormones (adrenaline, cortisol) are being released to the bloodstream and this triggers all chain of complex reactions in the body. Even minor stress, experienced from time to time, has a detrimental effect and can have serious consequences for your health. In case of chronic stress the negative effect is even stronger since the body is constantly in the state of fight-or-flight, what means that the stress hormones are produced almost all the time. This damages the body in the long-term.

The list of stress related conditions is long, some of them are physical other are mental. Additionally, stress influences not only the health, but the behaviors – it takes practice to deal with stress sensibly and usually humans tend to search for quick fix: alcohol and drugs provide immediate relaxation.

workplace discrimination

Physical symptoms and conditions related to stress include:

  • headaches, migraines, dizziness
  • chest pain, heart pain
  • high blood pressure
  • digestive problems, stomach pain, diarrheas
  • sexual dysfunctions, no sex drive
  • hair loss, tooth and gum problems
  • low levels of energy, loss of muscles
  • diabetes, obesity
  • ulcers

Emotional symptoms and conditions related to stress include:

  • overthinking, anxiety, irritability
  • depression, sadness
  • panic attack
  • problems with sleeping
  • frustration and anger
  • problems with concentration and memory

Unhealthy behaviors related to stress include:

  • addictions: drinking, smoking, drug use
  • gambling
  • eating disorders, overeating
  • compulsive behaviors: shopping, watching TV, browsing the internet


Discrimination as the form of unfair treatment is illegal in most of the countries in the world. Employers have to implement protective regulations and follow EEO procedures to ensure their employees feel safe, acknowledged, and respected.

Intentional or unintentional, mild or severe mistreatment causes not only organizational problems (high turnover, low productivity, absenteeism) but influences strongly mental and physical well-being of staff employed in the company. Hostile, disrespectful, and toxic work environment affects employees health negatively and may be a major reason for: depression, suicide, obesity, heart conditions as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

Read also: A link between diversity management and equal employment opportunity in the workplace

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Author: Nicole Mankin

HR manager with an excellent ability to build a positive atmosphere and create a valuable environment for employees. She loves to see the potential of talented people and mobilize them to develop.