7 Warning Signs of Workplace Discrimination & How to Address It

signs of discrimination at work

Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), discrimination in any aspect of employment based on specific protected characteristics is strictly prohibited for businesses with five or more employees.

These protected traits include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Race, color, national origin, ancestry
  • Age (40 and older)
  • Disability, mental or physical
  • Genetic information
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Gender identity and expression
  • Religious creed
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital/familial status
  • Military/veteran status

Discriminatory actions can encompass refusals to hire, terminations, denying promotions, unequal pay, harassment, or creating a hostile environment based on these protected classes.

With this legal framework in mind, let’s examine seven concerning situations that could indicate a discriminatory pattern worthy of further investigation.

7 Red Flags of Potential Discrimination

1. Unequal Treatment or Opportunities

One glaring sign of discrimination is when you notice coworkers outside your protected class consistently receiving favorable treatment, better job assignments, or greater access to training/career development opportunities – despite you possessing comparable skills and qualifications.

For example, you have the same tenure, sales numbers, and performance reviews as a colleague. Still, they are repeatedly selected for the lucrative client accounts while you’re stuck with the less profitable leads. Or perhaps you continuously get passed over for program enrollment or skills training that could further your career growth. This could all be considered discrimination under the law.

2. Biased or Offensive Comments/Behavior

Overtly racist, sexist, homophobic, or other discriminatory comments, “jokes,” or behaviors create a hostile work environment, even if not directly targeting you. These reveal deeply rooted prejudices that enable discriminatory treatment.

Examples may include a manager making derogatory remarks about ethnic stereotypes, a coworker repeatedly mocking certain accents or nationalities, or colleagues sharing offensive memes or slurs. This toxicity poisons the workplace culture and makes members of targeted groups feel unsafe or unwelcome.

3. Lack of Diversity or Representation

While not definitive proof, a profound lack of minority, female, disabled, or other protected groups represented in prominent roles, senior leadership, or the workforce as a whole could potentially signal systemic inequality worth examining.

If you look around and realize your company’s highest ranks and most visible positions are completely homogenous despite operating in a diverse region, it raises questions about potential barriers to equal opportunities.

4. Retaliation for Reporting Concerns

The FEHA clearly prohibits punishing employees for asserting their rights or reporting discriminatory practices through termination, demotion, reassignments, increasing work duties, or other retaliatory actions.

Say you report a coworker’s racist conduct to your manager or HR, only to find your own work responsibilities drastically reduced, your earned promotion is rescinded, or you receive an unwarranted negative performance review shortly after. These could be retaliatory measures designed to dissuade you from making further discrimination claims.

5. Failure to Provide Reasonable Accommodations

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to allow employees with disabilities to perform essential job functions, unless it poses an undue hardship on operations. A blanket denial without any attempt at accommodation could constitute discrimination.

Common examples include refusing to adjust a workstation or schedule for an employee with a documented medical condition or mobility issue or accommodating an employee’s need to legitimately work from home. Or perhaps, despite multiple requests, your employer persistently refuses to provide tools like voice recognition software to assist with your disability needs.

6. Inconsistent Application of Policies

If workplace rules, disciplinary actions, dress code expectations, or other company policies appear to only be enforced against particular individuals who belong to a protected class, that raises suspicions of discriminatory practices.

For instance, you notice time and again that your LGBTQ colleagues seem to receive harsh disciplinary actions for tardiness or workplace infractions that are routinely ignored by other non-LGBTQ employees. This uneven enforcement indicates bias.

7. Preferential Treatment

This more subtle sign points to an insular group or culture within the company that favors promoting and providing growth opportunities only to a select clique while systematically excluding others outside that circle.
Perhaps you discover that most senior leadership and prime assignments go to an old fraternity clique approving each other for raises and plum roles. If operated free from legitimate, objective, merit-based criteria, these “good ole’ boy” networks can perpetuate discrimination.

How to Respond to Suspected Workplace Discrimination

If you suspect you’re facing discrimination in your California workplace, take swift and deliberate action. Begin by thoroughly documenting all incidents and unequal treatment you experience. Keep a detailed record including dates, times, witnesses, tangible evidence like emails, and other relevant details.

Educate yourself on your rights and protections under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and other applicable state/federal anti-discrimination laws.

Depending on the severity of the situation, your next steps should include:

  • Filing an internal complaint through your employer’s anti-discrimination policies and reporting channels, provided you trust these to be properly enforced.
  • Submitting a formal complaint or charge with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) to initiate an official investigation.
  • Consulting an experienced California employment law attorney, which is highly advised in complex cases or if facing termination, denied promotions/accommodations, or escalating retaliation.

An employment lawyer can provide invaluable guidance on navigating the complaint process effectively. They will also assess your situation to determine if you may be eligible for remedies such as:

  • Back pay for lost past earnings
  • Front pay for future lost earnings
  • Hiring, reinstatement, or promotion if wrongfully terminated/denied
  • Coverage for out-of-pocket expenses related to the discrimination
  • Court orders for policy changes, anti-discrimination training, or reasonable accommodations
  • Monetary damages for emotional distress
  • Punitive damages in egregious cases
  • Recovery of attorney’s fees and legal costs

Your attorney can help you pursue resolving the discrimination through internal policy enforcement, filing an official complaint, or pursuing a civil lawsuit against your employer.

Stand Up Against Workplace Discrimination With TONG LAW

Workplace discrimination inflicts immeasurable damage – on employees’ psyches, career trajectories, workplace cultures, and ultimately, a company’s bottom line through lost productivity and legal liabilities. It’s a corrosive mentality that benefits no one.

Know that you have the power to identify discriminatory red flags and take a stand for your rights. Powerhouse employment law firms like TONG LAW have your back, armed with extensive experience advocating for clients facing discriminatory practices.

If you’re experiencing a potentially discriminatory situation, don’t suffer in silence or assume there’s no recourse. Contact our office today for a confidential consultation on your legal options and path forward.

Author Bio

Vincent Tong

Vincent Tong is the CEO and Managing Partner of TONG LAW, a business and employment law firm located in Oakland, CA. Vincent is a fierce advocate for employees facing discrimination and wrongful termination. With several successful jury trial victories and favorable settlements, he has earned a strong reputation for delivering exceptional results for his clients.

In addition, Vincent provides invaluable counsel to businesses, guiding them on critical matters such as formation and governance, regulatory compliance, and protection of intellectual property assets. His depth of experience allows him to anticipate risks, devise strategies to avoid legal pitfalls, and empower clients to pursue their goals confidently.

Vincent currently serves as the 2021 President of the Board of Directors for the Alameda County Bar Association and sits on the Executive Board for the California Employment Lawyers Association. Recognized for outstanding skills and client dedication, he has consecutively earned the Super Lawyers’ Rising Star honor since 2015, reserved for the top 2.5% of attorneys. He also received the Distinguished Service Award for New Attorney from the Alameda County Bar Association in 2016. He is licensed to practice before all California state courts and the United States District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of California.

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