Workplace Discrimination vs. Harassment — Is There a Difference?

Frustrated businessman at work

Facing discrimination or harassment in the workplace can be a frightening and demoralizing experience for employees. Unfair treatment based on characteristics such as gender, race, or religious beliefs is never acceptable, yet it still happens frequently. But what’s unclear to many workers is if there’s a difference between discrimination and harassment — two terms often used interchangeably — and how they can best protect themselves against both.

Similarities and Differences Between Discrimination and Harassment

Discrimination refers to the unequal or unfair treatment of individuals based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion, national origin, age, and disability. Federal and state laws and regulations prohibit this type of behavior.

Harassment, on the other hand, is a form of discrimination in which unwelcome conduct creates a hostile work environment or targets an individual based on their protected status.

Examples of discrimination may include:

  • Not hiring someone because they are a particular gender or race;
  • Paying someone less than another employee for doing the same job; and,
  • Promoting one person over another for no legitimate reason but their characteristic difference.

Harassment, on the other hand, is not limited to any particular protected class but can occur between any individuals in the workplace regardless of race, gender, or any other characteristic difference. It involves verbal or physical conduct with hostile undertones, particularly if it continues over time and causes an uncomfortable environment at work. Examples may include making offensive comments about a co-worker’s religious beliefs or making unwelcome sexual advances toward another individual in the workplace.

What Employees Can Do to Protect Themselves

Employees can aim to protect themselves from discrimination and harassment by staying informed on their rights as an employee and what types of situations are considered discriminatory or harassing. They should speak up if something seems off and not be afraid to report any situation that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Speaking with trusted colleagues and friends can also help if an employee needs support.

Employees can also keep records of all incidents, including emails, witnesses, dates, and times, and document them thoroughly to help build their case if the problem persists. If the issue still arises after taking appropriate steps, it may be time to take legal action.

The employment lawyers at Barton Mendez Soto PLLC specialize in discrimination law and will always put your best interests first. We can advise on how best to handle the situation, assist with filing a complaint or lawsuit against your employer for discrimination/harassment, and answer any questions you may have about filing a claim for damages due to discriminatory practices in the workplace.

Don’t file a discrimination or harassment claim alone — contact Barton Mendez Soto PLLC online or by phone so we can help. (480) 418-0668

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