The negative and damaging consequences of workplace discrimination
Published 23 December 2019
The impact of suffering any type of unfavourable treatment can be devastating for the victim and it is particularly so with workers subjected to discrimination.
All discrimination is harmful as it can have a serious and detrimental effect on an individual’s mental and physical health and emotional well-being.
Discrimination means treating a person unfairly because of who they are or because they possess what are known as protected characteristics (1).
The Equality Act 2010 details the nine protected characteristics, which are: age, gender, race, disability, religion, pregnancy and maternity, sexual orientation, gender reassignment and marriage and civil partnership.
The Act explicitly states that it is against the law to treat any person unfairly or less favourably than someone else because of a personal characteristic.
Research on the impact of discrimination is dominated by American studies, However, earlier this year UK-based researchers looked at the impact of age discrimination (2).
The study analysed data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which surveyed more than 7,500 people over the age of 50 and followed their progress for six years.
The findings revealed that a quarter of over 50s quizzed claimed they had been unfairly treated because of their age. The victims of ageism were said to be more likely to suffer health problems, or develop them over time, suggesting there is a link between age discrimination and ill health.
Research by Stonewall, Britain’s leading charity for lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality, found that abuse and discrimination on the street, at home, and at work significantly increased the risk of poor mental health among LGBT people compared to the general population (3).
Two-thirds of LGBT people who had been the victim of a hate crime (69 per cent) experienced depression, while three in four (76 per cent) reported having episodes of anxiety.
Despite the fact that any type of discrimination is unlawful the indication is that incidents are still fairly common. More than a quarter of British workers are said to have experienced discrimination in the workplace. (4)
As the working environment is the setting in which most of us are likely to spend the majority of our time outside of our home, understanding the impact of discrimination in the workplace is important.
The normal pressures of work such as wanting to do well, hit targets, meet deadlines and gain promotion can be stressful for an employee. And, the burden and stress caused by discrimination, or any other type of harassment for that matter, can exacerbate an already difficult situation.
Studies have established that there is a relationship between perceived discrimination in the workplace and a negative effect on both mental and physical health of the victim.
Employees who have experienced discrimination are said to have higher levels of psychological distress and health-related problems than employees who have not.
Physical effects are said to include but not be limited to aches and pains, an increase in cardiovascular illness, breast cancer, obesity and high blood pressure most likely related to the impact of the stress.
Mental effects on the employee can include depression, developing anxiety disorders, loss of self-control leading to the employee becoming hostile or even attempting suicide.
As well as the personal impact on the victim there can be a knock-on effect on the workplace. The performance of the worker subjected to discrimination will inevitably suffer and they can lose focus and work in a counterproductive manner, which can be disruptive.
Employers should have policies in place to combat discrimination and any complaints should be taken seriously. All employers have a duty of care to their employees, which means that they should take all steps which are reasonably possible to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing.
ACAS is currently working on developing a section of its website focusing on discrimination, bullying and harassment (5). It does currently provide comprehensive guidance on subjects such as equality and discrimination, equal pay, gender pay gap reporting and reasonable adjustments
(2) Research on the impact of Discrimination – [Internet] www.thelancet.com [Cited 23.12.19] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(19)30035-0/fulltext
(3) LGBT – [Internet] www.stonewall.org.uk [Cited 23.12.19] https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/media-releases/stonewall-report-reveals-impact-discrimination-health-lgbt-people
(4) Discrimination is unlawful – [Internet] www.independent.co.uk [Cited 23.12.19] https://www.independent.co.uk/extras/lifestyle/uk-workers-discrimination-office-workplace-sexism-racism-ageism-a8559501.html
(5) ACAS – [Internet] www.acas.org.uk [Cited 23.12.19] https://www.acas.org.uk/discrimination-bullying-and-harassment.
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