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Effects of discrimination in the workplace

By Neslie A. Etheridge, CECOM Equal Employment Opportunity office (February 12, 2015)

Next to their homes, the workplace is where Americans spend the majority of their time. Employees strive for success and recognition in their chosen professions with the hope of a fair shot at advancement. But when workplace discrimination occurs, it can have effects far beyond a stalled career. The burden and stress caused by discrimination and other forms of harassment can take a physical and sometimes mental toll on your body, compounding an already difficult situation.

A recently released study conducted by National Institute for Health (NIH) has shown a relationship between perceived discrimination in the workplace and a negative effect on both mental and physical health of the employee. Employees who have experienced discrimination have higher levels of psychological distress and health-related problems than employees who have not.

NIH conducted a meta-analysis of past studies and current literature on potential pathways linking perceived discrimination to negative health outcomes.  Information in the cross studies reviewed by NIH includes a link that suggests racial discrimination can lead to smoking, while sexual harassment and workplace bullying (hostile work environment) can lead to heavy alcohol use as a means for the employee to cope with the situation at work. Some of the physical effects include aches and pains, an increase in cardiovascular illness, breast cancer, obesity and high blood pressure most likely related to the impact of the stress. Effects are not limited to physical but also mental effects on the employee include depression, developing anxiety disorders, loss of self control leading to the employee becoming hostile or even attempting suicide.

Perceived discrimination has effects on both the employee and the work environment. These include a poor work culture when the employee losses focus and exhibits counterproductive work behaviors such as not completing tasks on time, leaving work early, and arriving late...


The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces laws that protect you from illegal discrimination and harassment in employment based on your actual or perceived:

  • ANCESTRY AGE (40 and above)
  • COLOR DISABILITY (physical and mental, including HIV and AIDS)
  • MEDICAL CONDITION (genetic characteristics, cancer or a record or history of cancer)
  • NATIONAL ORIGIN (includes language use and possession of a driver’s license issued to persons unable to prove their presence in the United States is authorized under federal law)
  • RACE
  • RELIGION (includes religious dress and grooming practices)
  • SEX/GENDER (includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and/or related medical conditions)

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (Government Code sections 12900 through 12996) and its implementing regulations (California Code of Regulations, title 2, sections 7285.0 through 8504):

• Prohibit harassment of employees, applicants, and independent contractors by any persons and require employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment. This includes a prohibition against sexual harassment, gender harassment, harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and/or related medical conditions, as well as harassment based on all other characteristics listed above.

• Prohibit employers from limiting or prohibiting the use of any language in any workplace unless justified by business necessity. The employer must notify employees of the language restriction and consequences for violation.

• Require that all employers provide information to each of their employees on the nature, illegality, and legal remedies that apply to sexual harassment. Employers may either develop their own publications, which must meet standards set forth in California Government Code section 12950, or use a brochure from the DFEH.

• Require employers with 50 or more employees and all public entities to provide sexual harassment prevention training for all supervisors.

• Require employers to reasonably accommodate an employee or job applicant’s religious beliefs and practices, including the wearing or carrying of religious clothing, jewelry or artifacts, and hair styles, facial hair, or body hair, which are part of an individual’s observance of his or her religious beliefs.

• Require employers to reasonably accommodate employees or job applicants with a disability to enable them to perform the essential functions of a job.

• Permit job applicants and employees to file complaints with the DFEH against an employer, employment agency, or labor union that fails to grant equal employment as required by law.

• Prohibit discrimination against any job applicant or employee in hiring, promotions, assignments, termination, or any term, condition, or privilege of employment. • Require employers, employment agencies, and unions to preserve applications, personnel records, and employment referral records for a minimum of two years.

• Require employers to provide leaves of up to four months to employees disabled because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.

• Require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations requested by an employee, on the advice of her health care provider, related to her pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

• Require employers of 50 or more persons to allow eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks leave in a 12-month period for the birth of a child; the placement of a child for adoption or foster care; for an employee’s own serious health condition; or to care for a parent, spouse, or child with a serious health condition. The law also requires employers to post a notice informing employees of their family and medical leave rights.

• Require employment agencies to serve all applicants equally, refuse discriminatory job orders, and prohibit employers and employment agencies from making discriminatory pre-hiring inquiries or publishing help-wanted advertisements that express a discriminatory hiring preference.

• Prohibit unions from discriminating in member admissions or dispatching members to jobs.

• Prohibit retaliation against a person who opposes, reports, or assists another person to oppose unlawful discrimination.

The law provides for remedies for individuals who experience prohibited discrimination or harassment in the workplace. These remedies include hiring, front pay, back pay, promotion, reinstatement, cease-and-desist orders, expert witness fees, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, punitive damages, and emotional distress damages. Job applicants and employees:

If you believe you have experienced discrimination, you may file a complaint with the DFEH. Independent contractors: If you believe you have been harassed, you may file a complaint with the DFEH.

Complaints must be filed within one year of the last act of discrimination/harassment or, for victims who are under the age of 18, not later than one year after the victim’s eighteenth birthday.

For more information contact (800) 884-1684; TTY (800) 700-2320; videophone for the hearing impaired (916) 226-5285; contact.center@dfeh.ca.gov; or www.dfeh.ca.gov. Government Code section 12950 and California Code of Regulations, title 2, section 7287, require all employers to post this document. It must be conspicuously posted in hiring offices, on employee bulletin boards, in employment agency waiting rooms, union halls, and other places employees gather.




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