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How To Prevent Discrimination In The Workplace

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Understanding how to prevent discrimination in the workplace has been a key policy area for the European Union over the last half-century. Since the 1970s, the EU has implemented 13 pieces of legislation aimed at achieving equality between men and women in the workplace alone.  

Under the Amsterdam Treaty, the European Union can act to prevent discrimination at work in the following areas:  

  • Gender 
  • Racial and ethnic origin 
  • Religion and belief  
  • Disability 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Age  

As this is such an area of focus for European lawmakers, it is essential that businesses comply with the necessary laws in order to avoid legal sanctions.  

But there are many more reasons to work to eradicate discrimination at work too. This article explores what counts as discrimination, why organisations should strive for a discrimination-free workplace and how to succeed in this aim. 

1. What does discrimination entail?

Discrimination at work relates to employees being treated in an inequitable manner based on personal characteristics. This relates to what people are (e.g. their gender or race) and what they believe (e.g. their religion).  

If employers are unjust in their treatment of workers because of these protected characteristics, they can be charged with discrimination under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Employers must be able to present an “objective justification” in order to avoid sanctions for their actions in this regard.  

Examples of discrimination include being paid less than a colleague in a similar position, where your experience and abilities are similar because you are of a different race or gender from them. It might also manifest with an employer preventing an employee from gaining a promotion based only on one of the personal characteristics or any other action where someone is disadvantaged based on race or ethnicity, belief, disability, gender, sexual orientation or age.  


2. The importance of a discrimination-free workplace

Not only can discrimination cost a company financially in terms of compliance sanctions, it can also create a toxic atmosphere that affects the health and well-being of employees. They can lose trust in the business, with detrimental consequences to productivity and staff retention. 

There is also the potential for reputational damage for businesses found to have discriminated against employees with certain protected characteristics. This could be following a tribunal or just as a result of social media posts circulating, accusing the business of failing to treat all employees equally.  

3. Types of discrimination in the workplace

There are common themes across all types of discrimination. This includes opportunities being withheld from employees based on their characteristics, increased scrutiny of performance based on their attributes, inequitable pay and even refusal to hire people in the first place, based on who they are or what they are.  

In addition, discrimination manifests in specific ways relating to these types of discrimination. 

Type of discrimination 



Management may prize characteristics in men that they see as negatives in female employees. This includes men being lauded for “persistence” but women being seen as “troublemakers” by acting in a similar way. Detrimental treatment of people based solely on their gender and failure to adequately provide facilities for female or non-binary employees are other examples. 

Race or ethnicity 

Allowing a culture of racism to exist without challenge in the workplace is discrimination. All employees should be able to work without fear of prejudice.  


If your workplace is not accessible to people with disabilities, it can be seen as discriminatory.  


People with religion should be able to observe practices such as prayer times or holidays and observances without it being detrimental to their careers 

Sexual orientation 

When homophobia or other forms of sexual orientation discrimination are allowed to exist in a workplace, it makes that location unsafe for LGBTQI+ employees, who have the right to equal treatment in the workplace.  


In some workplaces, management figures doubt the ability of older people to complete their tasks in a satisfactory manner, based only on their age. Denying opportunities to older workers, or pressuring them to retire or resign, can be an example of age discrimination.  


4. How to prevent discrimination in the workplace

4.1 Become familiar with anti-discrimination law

To be able to understand how your organisation can prevent discrimination, you need to understand the laws relating to discrimination. For the EU, the right to work without discrimination is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It is also further emboldened by laws such as: 

4.2 Craft a clear policy statement

With so many facets of discrimination to cover, it is easy for your policies to be verbose and try to cover all bases. However, it is important that you communicate the message of equality in a simple and effective manner.  

Be clear in your statement that discrimination of any kind will not be accepted in the business and that anyone found to be acting in a discriminatory manner will be subject to disciplinary action. Also, include anti-discrimination guidance in your code of conduct 

4.3 Define consequence

As discrimination is detrimental to the business, you need to ensure you are clear on the consequences for any employees found to have carried out discriminatory actions in the workplace.  

State the possible consequences for the business, for the well-being of their colleagues and in terms of disciplinary action against them if they discriminate against others in their role. This will leave no doubt as to your stance on discrimination.  

4.4 Establish a process for resolving issues

It is important to remember that employees are innocent of discrimination until proven guilty and that many decisions are based on genuine reasoning, rather than discrimination. With this in mind, you need an investigation process in place to provide a ruling over whether a staff member accusing another of discrimination has a case.  

Ensure there is an impartial team in place to hear both sides of the story and investigate the truth behind them to determine the facts of the case. This dictates fairness and enables you to take the right course of action. 

4.5 Provide a whistleblowing channel

As discrimination often involves mistreatment by senior colleagues, it can dissuade victims from reporting instances of mistreatment. They might believe they will not be listened to or believed, or that they will receive retaliation for speaking up.  

With a confidential whistleblowing channel, as well as anonymous reporting where the company allows, employees can feel more confident that a system is in place to give them a fair hearing and act on their information. Using whistleblower software like IntegrityLog encourages more reporting and, therefore, comprises an effective weapon in the battle against discrimination.  

4.6 Educate employees

Education and training are essential as you seek to eradicate discrimination. Diversity and inclusion training is essential, as is unconscious bias awareness. This helps provide a framework against which employees can check their decision-making to ensure they are giving everyone a fair chance.  

Look at improving soft skills, such as communication and leadership attributes, to help ensure managers are working in the best interests of all employees in the future.  

4.7 Conduct team-building activities

If an individual hasn’t had the opportunity to spend time with people of different cultures, genders, abilities, religions, sexual orientations and other attributes, it might be that they discriminate subconsciously, rather than through malice.  

Having your employees meet up on a regular basis to undertake team-building activities can help people to look past the things that make them different and recognise what they have in common. This will inspire them to make decisions with more clarity and equity in the future.  

5. Tips for a discrimination-free work environment

  • Provide a safe environment for everyone: Employees should feel able to report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe at work and be listened to. This includes discriminatory actions. Communicate the value you place on well-being and internal reporting to your staff.  
  • Make your processes safe and easy to understand: A successful reporting process is one that is easy to use and convenient for employees. Choose a system that they can access confidentially from wherever they are, using any device so that they feel safe making their report. This is why an online reporting platform is more effective than using a physical mailbox in an office where others can see the person making the report, for example.  
  • Encourage open communication: When you encourage employees to speak up, you show respect for their opinions and well-being, as well as a commitment to transparency. This culture leaves employees in no doubt that you will listen to their report and give them a fair hearing and that you are committed to acting on reports of discrimination.  
  • Implement diverse hiring practices: Advertise jobs in places that you might not otherwise utilise to aim for a wider range of candidates for the role. Anonymise CVs so that the person creating the shortlist does not have information about the ethnicity, gender, religion or any other attribute of candidates, avoiding unconscious bias. You should also build a diverse interview team to reduce biases during that part of the selection process.  
  • Be prepared to investigate complaints: Ensuring a swift, fair investigation into complaints about discrimination shows that you take it seriously and are prepared to take action to stop it becoming entrenched in the organisation. Create your investigation team and instil the importance of feeding back to the reporting person in good time to ensure swift action if needed.  
  • Regularly review policies and practices: Monitoring your performance in reducing discrimination is essential to understand if your policies and procedures are working. Set compliance KPIs and track your progress towards them so that you can adjust and finetune your approach to improve your effectiveness in preventing discrimination.  
  • Celebrate progress and improvement: When you meet your KPIs, make sure you recognise this achievement and celebrate your progress with your team. This acknowledgement acts as a handy reminder that you are making every effort to reduce complaints of discrimination, and that helps your employees understand it is a serious policy rather than a performative action.  

6. Examples of workplace discrimination 

In January 2023, the European Court of Justice ruled that it was unlawful for a Polish television channel not to renew a freelancer’s contract due to his sexual orientation. The editor had released a song on YouTube advocating for same-sex couples, which led the company to take the discriminatory action.  

A study found that Muslim women with headscarves experienced discrimination more than other candidates when applying for jobs in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. Researchers send CVs of the same women to employers with some containing pictures of them in a hijab and others without. In some cases, the unveiled picture CVs received twice as many responses as those with the picture featuring the hijab.  

7. FAQs

7.1 Why does workplace discrimination occur?

Discrimination can occur as a result of prejudice, but also through misinformation, ignorance and unconscious biases that affect many people.  

7.2 How can businesses support employees in reporting discrimination?

By providing an easy-to-use, confidential reporting system, businesses can make it easier for employees to make a discrimination complaint, safe in the knowledge their identity will be kept secret and the firm will investigate the matter in full.   

7.3 What resources are available for employers to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Unconscious bias training helps to break down some of the barriers to a more inclusive workplace. In addition, team-building activities bring together people of different backgrounds and abilities to create understanding and bonds between groups that might not otherwise mix. You can also supply information sheets that help employees support each other. For example, sharing knowledge about what it means to celebrate Ramadan.  

7.4 How can remote and hybrid work environments contribute to workplace inclusivity?

When candidates do not have to move house to start a job, it opens the position up to more people, including those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and disabled employees. This means you can foster a more inclusive workforce.  

7.5 What role do hiring managers play in preventing discrimination during the recruitment process?

Hiring managers have to ensure all candidates have an equal opportunity to earn a role in the company. By working to remove unconscious bias and remain open-minded throughout the hiring process, they can help create a level playing field for candidates.  

7.6 How can companies ensure that their anti-discrimination policies are consistently enforced across all levels of the organisation?

By promoting a speak-up culture, including an easy-to-use internal reporting channel, business owners can create an atmosphere where employees feel confident reporting unfair treatment and can do so in confidence or anonymously.  

8. Conclusion 

Knowing how to prevent discrimination in the workplace is a big step towards a more harmonious and compliant company. It is in the interests of your business to be alert to potential discrimination and to implement training that helps workers understand and embrace differences rather than fear them.  

Cultivating a speak-up culture helps to expose any instances of workplace discrimination, and implementing an online internal reporting channel helps staff feel confident in calling out misconduct of this type.  

IntegrityLog is whistleblower software that allows for confidential and anonymous reporting, holding all data securely and keeping your investigations team on track to hit deadlines with its easy-to-view dashboard. Request a demo for your business today.  

9. References and further reading

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