Employment discrimination
Employment discrimination (or workplace discrimination) is discrimination
Discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their membership in a certain group or category. It involves the actual behaviors towards groups such as excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group. The term began to be...

 in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, and compensation. It includes various types of harassment
Harassment covers a wide range of behaviors of an offensive nature. It is commonly understood as behaviour intended to disturb or upset, and it is characteristically repetitive. In the legal sense, it is intentional behaviour which is found threatening or disturbing...


Many jurisdictions prohibit some types of employment discrimination, often by forbidding discrimination based on certain traits ("protected categories"). In other cases, the law may require discrimination against certain groups.

In places where it is illegal, discrimination often takes subtler forms, such as wage discrimination and requirements with disparate impact on certain groups. In addition, employees sometimes suffer retaliation for opposing workplace discrimination or for reporting violations to the authorities.

Like most discrimination, employment discrimination may occur intentionally or unintentionally, because of prejudice
Prejudice is making a judgment or assumption about someone or something before having enough knowledge to be able to do so with guaranteed accuracy, or "judging a book by its cover"...

 or ignorance
Ignorance is a state of being uninformed . The word ignorant is an adjective describing a person in the state of being unaware and is often used as an insult...


Protected categories

Laws often prohibit discrimination on the basis of:
  • Race or color
    Color or colour is the visual perceptual property corresponding in humans to the categories called red, green, blue and others. Color derives from the spectrum of light interacting in the eye with the spectral sensitivities of the light receptors...

  • Ethnicity or national
    Nationality is membership of a nation or sovereign state, usually determined by their citizenship, but sometimes by ethnicity or place of residence, or based on their sense of national identity....

  • Sex
    In biology, sex is a process of combining and mixing genetic traits, often resulting in the specialization of organisms into a male or female variety . Sexual reproduction involves combining specialized cells to form offspring that inherit traits from both parents...

     or gender
    Gender is a range of characteristics used to distinguish between males and females, particularly in the cases of men and women and the masculine and feminine attributes assigned to them. Depending on the context, the discriminating characteristics vary from sex to social role to gender identity...

  • Pregnancy
    Pregnancy refers to the fertilization and development of one or more offspring, known as a fetus or embryo, in a woman's uterus. In a pregnancy, there can be multiple gestations, as in the case of twins or triplets...

  • Religion
    Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

     or creed
    A creed is a statement of belief—usually a statement of faith that describes the beliefs shared by a religious community—and is often recited as part of a religious service. When the statement of faith is longer and polemical, as well as didactic, it is not called a creed but a Confession of faith...

  • Political affiliation
  • Language
    Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

  • Citizenship
    Citizenship is the state of being a citizen of a particular social, political, national, or human resource community. Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and responsibilities...

  • Disability
    A disability may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these.Many people would rather be referred to as a person with a disability instead of handicapped...

     or medical condition
  • Age
    Ageing or aging is the accumulation of changes in a person over time. Ageing in humans refers to a multidimensional process of physical, psychological, and social change. Some dimensions of ageing grow and expand over time, while others decline...

  • Sexual orientation
    Sexual orientation
    Sexual orientation describes a pattern of emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to the opposite sex, the same sex, both, or neither, and the genders that accompany them. By the convention of organized researchers, these attractions are subsumed under heterosexuality, homosexuality,...

  • Gender identity
    Gender identity
    A gender identity is the way in which an individual self-identifies with a gender category, for example, as being either a man or a woman, or in some cases being neither, which can be distinct from biological sex. Basic gender identity is usually formed by age three and is extremely difficult to...

  • Marital status
    Marital status
    A person's marital status indicates whether the person is married. Questions about marital status appear on many polls and forms, including censuses and credit card applications.In the simplest sense, the only possible answers are "single" or "married"...

  • Military
    A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

    A veteran is a person who has had long service or experience in a particular occupation or field; " A veteran of ..."...

  • Military discharge status or anticipated military deployment
  • Use of Tobacco Products

Some jurisdictions prohibit employment discrimination against other social groups that have legal protections. They include discrimination or harassment based on socioeconomic class
Social class
Social classes are economic or cultural arrangements of groups in society. Class is an essential object of analysis for sociologists, political scientists, economists, anthropologists and social historians. In the social sciences, social class is often discussed in terms of 'social stratification'...

, height
Height is the measurement of vertical distance, but has two meanings in common use. It can either indicate how "tall" something is, or how "high up" it is. For example "The height of the building is 50 m" or "The height of the airplane is 10,000 m"...

 or weight
In science and engineering, the weight of an object is the force on the object due to gravity. Its magnitude , often denoted by an italic letter W, is the product of the mass m of the object and the magnitude of the local gravitational acceleration g; thus:...

 if not relevant to employment, and provincial
A province is a territorial unit, almost always an administrative division, within a country or state.-Etymology:The English word "province" is attested since about 1330 and derives from the 13th-century Old French "province," which itself comes from the Latin word "provincia," which referred to...

Régional Compagnie Aérienne Européenne, or Régional for short, is a subsidiary airline wholly owned by Air France which connects hubs at Paris, Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand, and Bordeaux to 49 airports in Europe. The airline operates in Air France livery, retaining its name in small titles and logo on...


Markets punish the discriminator

The Nobel prize-winning economist Gary Becker
Gary Becker
Gary Stanley Becker is an American economist. He is a professor of economics, sociology at the University of Chicago and a professor at the Booth School of Business. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1992, and received the United States' Presidential Medal of Freedom...

 showed in his book The Economics of Discrimination (University of Chicago Press, 1957) how the markets automatically punish the companies that discriminate.

The profitability of the company that discriminates is decreased, and the loss is "directly proportional to how much the employer's decision was based on prejudice, rather than on merit." Indeed, choosing a worker with lower performance (in comparison to salary) causes losses proportional to the difference in performance. Similarly, the customers who discriminate against certain kinds of workers in favor of less effective have to pay more for their services, in the average.

If a company discriminates, it typically losses profitability and market share to the companies that do not discriminate, unless the state limits free competition protecting the discriminators.

Discrimination by the government

In politics, the dominating part of the population rules. Therefore, the worst discrimination in the history has been committed by states. For example, the anti-semitic practices of the Nazi-Germany would not have happened on free market
Free market
A free market is a competitive market where prices are determined by supply and demand. However, the term is also commonly used for markets in which economic intervention and regulation by the state is limited to tax collection, and enforcement of private ownership and contracts...

s, because they would have caused losses.

Government officials and politicians need not care about losses as much as companies, which decreases their incentive not to discriminate. For example, around 1900 the afro-Americans started to compete of jobs that had previously been all-white jobs. Because whites had more voting power, they enacted a law that made photographs of the applicants obligatory in civil service job applications. The number of blacks in federal employment plummeted for decades.

In early 20th century South Africa mine owners preferred hiring black workers because they were cheaper. Then the whites successfully persuaded the government to enact laws that highly restricted the black' rights to work (see Apartheid).

Similarly, to make more profits, producers secretly hired screenwriters who were on Senator Joseph McCarthy
Joseph McCarthy
Joseph Raymond "Joe" McCarthy was an American politician who served as a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957...

's blacklist, which mitigated the effects of the list.

Minimum wage
Minimum wage
A minimum wage is the lowest hourly, daily or monthly remuneration that employers may legally pay to workers. Equivalently, it is the lowest wage at which workers may sell their labour. Although minimum wage laws are in effect in a great many jurisdictions, there are differences of opinion about...

s enacted by the governments or unions decrease the loss caused by discrimination. Thus they weaken the markets' natural incentives not to discriminate. They also decrease the number of people whom the companies may profitably hire and thus make it unprofitable for the companies to hire people who have little expertise.

Effects of discrimination in the workplace

Discrimination in the workplace negatively affects businesses in that discriminatory policies can hurt a company's reputation. A business self-limits itself when it restricts advancement to certain groups or types of employees. Speaking negatively about a former employee can be damaging for a potential client. There is also a direct correlation between loyalty, retention, and discrimination. Employees are more likely to be looking for new jobs when they feel they have been wronged. According to a report on discrimination at the workplace by the International Labour Organization
International Labour Organization
The International Labour Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that deals with labour issues pertaining to international labour standards. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. Its secretariat — the people who are employed by it throughout the world — is known as the...

, “workplace discrimination remains a persistent global problem, with new, more subtle forms emerging.” Sending wrong signals to potential clients can also cause conflict because customers can sense when employees aren't enthusiastic or don't believe in their company. This is one reason that it is important for a job applicant to observe the attitudes of people they wish to work with. Sending positive signals to employees attracts future potential employees.

Inequalities suffered by discriminated groups spreads. Due to affirmative action
Affirmative action
Affirmative action refers to policies that take factors including "race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or national origin" into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group, usually as a means to counter the effects of a history of discrimination.-Origins:The term...

 policies, a new middle class has been created that consists of formerly discriminated people in some countries but in others, people who are from discriminated groups are frequently involved in the worst jobs, denied benefits, capital, land, social protection, training, or credit. Discrimination at a workplace can lead to poverty. “Discrimination creates a web of poverty, forced and child labor and social exclusion, (seeking to eliminate discrimination is indispensable to any strategy for poverty reduction and sustainable economic development).”

In December 2005, a Gallup poll showed that job satisfaction was lowest when employees experienced discrimination.

Gender discrimination and the workplace

Even though there are regulations that are used to promote equality within the workplace, discrimination is still rampant. Women still do not measure up to men when it comes to income, employment rates and occupational range. Women’s average salary is 72 to 88 percent of men’s, even when variables such as education, age, position level and job tenure are considered. In most countries, the glass ceiling
Glass ceiling
In economics, the term glass ceiling refers to "the unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements." Initially, the metaphor applied to barriers in the careers of women but...

 is ever present for women and the wage differences are significant compared to men. Based on a report by Catalyst in 2005, only “one in eight woman were CEO’s in the Fortune 500; an additional nine were CEO’s in Fortune 501-1000 companies.” Women are also more likely to be stuck in low-paid but more secure positions (i.e. education and healthcare). Historically the rate of employment for women was lower; however, due to the late 2000s recession
Late 2000s recession
The late-2000s recession, sometimes referred to as the Great Recession or Lesser Depression or Long Recession, is a severe ongoing global economic problem that began in December 2007 and took a particularly sharp downward turn in September 2008. The Great Recession has affected the entire world...

 the participation of women in the workforce has surpassed that of men. “Discrimination can occur at every stage of employment, from recruitment to education and remuneration, occupational segregation, and at time of layoffs.”

Unintentional discrimination

Unintentional discrimination (often termed "statistical discrimination
Statistical discrimination (economics)
Statistical discrimination is an economic theory of racial or gender inequality based on stereotypes. According to this theory, inequality may exist and persist between demographic groups even when economic agents are rational and non-prejudiced...

") occurs when neutral selection practices produce a substantial disparity of outcomes between one group and another. Such practices include the use of standardized tests (which may disadvantage certain groups) and/or height or weight (which may disadvantage women and some ethnic groups) in the hiring process. If the requirements are job-related and a "business necessity", the disparity is irrelevant.

Some laws prohibit unintentional as well as intentional discrimination, but may have different standards for deciding what is acceptable. Substantial disparities in outcome are not necessarily illegal, if the practices that produce them are necessary.

Statistical discrimination vs. actual discrimination

In some older studies, it has seemed as if the employers would discriminate for Far-Asians (15 to 25 percent more than for Caucasians) and against Afro-Americans (25 % less than for Caucasians) in pay and employment. When accounted for the amount and quality of the education and the geographic location, the differences disappeared. So it seems that the difference was not because of discrimination but because the Far-Asians usually had more and better education and worked in the North, where the salaries are higher also for Afro-Americans.

Similarly, some other studies about wage discrimination often lacks several factors that account for the differences in productivity of different workers. For example, women more often choose low-wage careers or non-profit jobs and they have less working experience than men of same age. In studies that sufficiently account for this kind of factors, remarkable wage differences are not found.

Also the fact that some groups are underrepresented in some institutions and professions does not prove discrimination. For example, people born in cities are naturally underrepresented in farming.

A company has the incentive to hire all people whose work produces more revenue than the cost of hiring them.

Legal protection from employment discrimination

Many countries have laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Sometimes these are part of broader anti-discrimination law
Anti-discrimination law
Anti-discrimination law refers to the law on people's right to be treated equally. Some countries mandate that in employment, in consumer transactions and in political participation people may be dealt with on an equal basis regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality and sometimes...

  • Employment discrimination law in the United States
    Employment discrimination law in the United States
    In the United States, employment discrimination is prohibited by a collection of state and federal laws, as well as by ordinances of counties and municipalities. Only discrimination based on certain characteristics is illegal....

  • Employment discrimination law in the United Kingdom
    Employment discrimination law in the United Kingdom
    United Kingdom employment equality law is a body of law which legislates against prejudice-based actions in the workplace. As an integral part of UK labour law it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because they have one of the "protected characteristics", which are, age, disability,...

  • Employment discrimination law in the European Union
    Employment discrimination law in the European Union
    The Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, entered into force in 1999, granted the European Union some powers to combat discrimination on the basis of:* Race or ethnic origin,* Sex, Pregnancy* sexual orientation* Religion or belief...

In the United States, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against various forms of employment discrimination. In addition to federal law safeguards, employees in California have broad protections under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

See also

  • Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951
    Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951
    The Convention concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value, or Equal Remuneration Convention is the 100th International Labour Organization Convention aimed at equal remuneration for work of equal value for men and women...

  • Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958
    Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958
    The Convention concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation or Discrimination Convention is an International Labour Organization Convention. It is one of 8 ILO fundamental conventions...

  • Economic discrimination
    Economic discrimination
    Economic discrimination is a term that describes a form of discrimination based on economic factors. These factors can include job availability, wages, the prices and/or availability of goods and services, and the amount of capital investment funding available to minorities for business...

  • Labour and employment law
    Labour and employment law
    Labour law is the body of laws, administrative rulings, and precedents which address the legal rights of, and restrictions on, working people and their organizations. As such, it mediates many aspects of the relationship between trade unions, employers and employees...

  • Marriage bars
    Marriage bars
    Marriage bars were a practice adopted from the late 19th century to the 1960s restricting married women from employment in many professions, especially teaching and clerical jobs...

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