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How to spot discrimination and bullying in the workplace

While not always clear, here are ways you can spot discrimination and bullying.
Credit: New Africa - stock.adobe.com
Coworkers bullying their colleague at workplace in office

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — ABC10's Race and Culture team recently investigated claims of discrimination and bullying at a Sacramento Target. While not always clear, here are ways you can spot discrimination and bullying.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bullying includes three core elements:

  • Unwanted aggressive behavior
  • Observed or perceived power imbalance
  • Repetition or high likelihood of repetition of bullying behaviors

The federal government’s definition of bullying is intended to help determine whether an incident is bullying or other type of aggressive behavior, such as one-time physical fights, online arguments, or incidents between adults. Some bullying actions can fall into criminal categories, such as harassment, hazing, or assault. There is no federal anti-bullying law. Although all states have anti-bullying legislation, bullying is not illegal. But, when bullying is also harassment, it does break federal law.

A 2021 national survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), an organization dedicated to the eradication of workplace bullying, shows more than 79 million people have been affected by workplace bullying in the U.S. Researchers surveyed 1,215 U.S. adults from Jan. 23, 2021, to Jan. 25, 2021, about workplace bullying. They found 30% of workers suffer abusive conduct on the job, another 19% witness it, 49% are affected by it, and 66% are aware that workplace bullying happens. Researchers also found that workplace bullying affects 53% Hispanic, 47% white, 45% Black and 32% of Asian employees.

When it comes to discrimination, a recent Gallup survey of U.S. workers found discrimination on the job can affect employees' perceptions of an organization's culture, opportunities, and co-workers' intentions. Workplace discrimination can also affect an employee's feelings of psychological safety and belonging, and their ability to do their best work. 

Workplace discrimination does not affect everyone equally. Based on results from the Gallup poll, 24% of Black and Hispanic employees reported experiencing discrimination at work in the last year, 16% of Asian and 15% of white employees did the same. The data went on to note 75% of Black employees say that discrimination was related to their race or ethnicity, compared with 61% of Hispanic and 42% of white workers. The study also finds that discrimination undermines employee wellbeing, more so for Black and Hispanic workers than white ones.

There are various types of discrimination prohibited by the laws enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They include:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Equal Pay/Compensation
  • Genetic Information
  • Harassment
  • National Origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Race/Color
  • Religion
  • Retaliation
  • Sex
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The EEOC defines race discrimination as treating someone, an applicant or employee, unfavorably because he or she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race, such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features. 

Color discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of skin color complexion. The EEOC also explains that discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are the same race or color.

It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person's race or color. Harassment can include, for example, racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person's race or color, or the display of racially-offensive symbols. 

Although the law doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment, or when it results in an adverse employment decision, such as the victim being fired or demoted. The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

If you feel you were the victim of discrimination, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is available to evaluate the facts and decide whether to accept the case for investigation. For more information on how to file a discrimination complaint, visit the DFEH website.

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