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Study Finds 1 in 4 Victims of Workplace Discrimination Face Stress and Depression

A study by VitalSmarts, a leadership training firm, found that more than 1-in4 employees who experience discrimination at work suffer from feelings of depression, anxiety, frustration, and helplessness.

The study’s researchers polled 500 victims of discrimination based on age, gender, race, national origin, religion, physical or mental disability, medical condition, pregnancy, marital status and sexual orientation.  The polled employees also reported that they feel that bias in their workplace is widespread, enduring, and unmanageable:

  • Widespread: 49% of victims feel that discrimination occurs regularly
  • Enduring: 66% of victims feel that discrimination has a significant impact on their morale, drive, and aspirations to advance
  • Unmanageable: 60% of victims said they did not believe they could prevent discrimination from reoccurring in the future

Types of Subtle Workplace Discrimination

It is common for discrimination to ultimately result in an employee being terminated or laid off.  However, discrimination can also manifest itself in less overt forms.   According to the study, there are at least seven kinds of employment discrimination that can be subtle but are still extremely damaging to employee morale and mood.

  • You’re Not Credible. Workers are overlooked for prestigious assignments or promotions, excluded from meetings, have their opinions discounted, etc.
  • Oops, Just Kidding. A supervisor or another employee makes an obvious discriminatory remark and then attempts to walk it back
  • Anything Goes After Hours. A supervisor or another employee  makes obvious discriminatory comments about others, believing that it is okay because it is outside of work and/or because they are not talking about the listener
  • You’re Unwelcome. Employees are not invited to social gatherings and excluded from social conversations at work.  Supervisors or colleagues also “forget” to tell employees about important meetings or even to provide employees with information they need to perform their job
  • Gotcha. A supervisor finds faults with an employee by distorting the truth, takes the side of other employees even when they are not credible, or  imposes different disciplinary treatment for the same alleged offenses
  • Unconscious Bias: Older employees, women, or minorities are informed they “don’t have executive presence,” “don’t fit the company culture,” “are overly aggressive,” etc.
  • Don’t Be Yourself. Employees are warned to avoid showing who they really are—e.g. to avoid talking about her “wife”, to dress in a more “feminine” way, etc.

As one of the study’s authors pointed out: “At best, this shadowy bias is exhausting. At worst it’s soul destroying to both the individual and the organization.”

Combating Workplace Discrimination

Employees shouldn’t feel helpless when facing discrimination.  At least in medium-sized and large companies, Human Resources is supposed to timely investigate and address complaints of discrimination.  Employers may also have handbooks that detail their preferred policies and procedures for reporting discrimination.

Nevertheless, it is not unusual for employers to turn a blind eye to discrimination complaints, or worse, to retaliate against employees for making such complaints.  In cases where discrimination complaints have not or cannot be adequately addressed, employees who believe they have been discriminated against should speak to an attorney to discuss their options and potential claims.

Victims of employment discrimination can potentially recover not only lost wages and benefits, but also damages for emotional distress caused by discrimination, such as depression, anxiety, embarrassment, etc.

If you would like to obtain legal advice about your workplace situation and rights, you can contact our Los Angeles and San Bernardino discrimination attorneys for a free consultation by calling us at (310) 575-2550 or filling out the contact form on this page.

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