Workplace discrimination, despite the many laws and regulations put in place to deter and address it’s occurrence, remains a pervasive problem for many employers. Navigating the murky waters of how discrimination occurs in its many different forms, some much less obvious than others, is a difficult endeavour that requires constant attention from employers seeking to protect their workplaces from its detrimental impacts.

However, having processes and systems in place to manage and prevent workplace discrimination enables an organisation to address issues far more effectively and, in many cases, prevent them from arising in the first place.

This article will delve into some of the ways that workplace discrimination can be addressed and prevented. Depending on what type of discrimination you are addressing or where you work, the methods you incorporate can differ according to your needs.

The important thing to keep in mind is that workplace discrimination can have far reaching consequences for the victims as well as the company’s overall health, so as an employer, keeping the best interests of all involved parties and seeking action as soon as possible is key.

Below are some of the essential considerations and mechanisms all employers should consider when forming or reviewing their companies approach to anti-discrimination.

Managing Workplace Discrimination

1. A good reporting system

An adequate system for reporting workplace discrimination is absolutely necessary for employers to include. This means that the system should be easily accessible and made available widely to all employees.

All employees should also be trained on how to utilise the system in their induction or be able to find how to do so via company resources.

The system should also allow for anonymous reports to be made as this is particularly helpful for victims who are fearful of repercussions or not sure how the complaint will be received. Having the ability to make the report without fear of being humiliated and knowing that their privacy will be maintained promotes an environment that encourages employees to speak up against discrimination.

2. Workplace investigation processes

When a report is made, undertaking a workplace investigation promptly and confidentially allows for workplace discrimination issues to be resolved more efficiently.

Doing so establishes that the company takes the complaints seriously and allows security to employees by knowing that their concerns will be addressed. The means of investigation will depend on the complaint and its severity, but all employees should have the ability to pursue both formal and informal resolution mechanisms. 

workplace investigation interview may be required and other forms of documentation might need to be produced, so having a well thought out process and the right people handling the investigation is very important to resolving the issue in a satisfactory manner.

3. Additional support

Part of the process and resolution of a workplace investigation should include means through which support can be provided to the victim.

For example, the victim could be provided with the option to work on a different project or location whilst the investigation is occurring, or once it has concluded, some additional support from their manager or supervisor whilst they are getting back on their feet.

A key thing to look out for is victimisation which is a fear that many employees face when deciding to make a complaint. Making sure that the employee is not exposed to additional discrimination as a result of victimisation is not only important in meeting the duty of care an employer owes, but also for maintaining an environment where other employees can make workplace discrimination reports without fear of retaliatory action that will inhibit their career growth or make their working environment hostile.

4. Remedial Action

If a single or group of perpetrators is identified, adequate action in reflection of company policy must be made. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every case will result in someone being fired.

Depending on the context and severity of the discrimination, the employer, and others with the assigned authority, in conjunction with what the victim wants, must come to a decision on how to proceed with any action. This can include mandatory additional training, disciplinary action, legal proceedings, demotions and indeed, in some cases, termination.

Preventing Workplace Discrimination

1. Strong anti-discrimination policies

Having strong no-tolerance policies against discrimination and clear consequences for any infringement is central to the prevention of workplace discrimination.

Know that these policies are not just limited to cementing a strong stance against discrimination against any party, although this is important, but also includes policies that promote and allow for the fair treatment of all employees such as equal opportunities for advancement in roles.

Having the policy is also not capable of preventing discriminatory actions if the employees don’t know about it, so making sure that all employees are aware of and understand the policy is incredibly important.

Furthermore, enforcing the policy so that everyone recognises its significance will help to further establish an environment that inhibits workplace discrimination.

2. Training/development initiatives for employees

All employees should be provided with educational training on discrimination to improve their understanding of the issue and to help protect themselves from being subjected to it unknowingly.

Beyond just discrimination specific training programs, similar initiatives on themes such as teamwork and diversity should also be introduced to promote harmony and a positive work environment. Beyond the initial onboarding process, these development opportunities should also be required or available and encouraged to employees at any point in their time with the company.

Supervisors and managers in particular should be required to undergo additional development before and during their time in the role as they have an additional responsibility to the employees that look to them for assistance.

3. Do your research

As an employer, a lot of what you can do to address and prevent discrimination will be based on how much you understand how it operates, how it’s affected your company in the past or present and what different policies and practices can do to target the issue.

You can do this in a number of ways, including:

  • Reviewing company policies surrounding discrimination on a regular basis
  • Examining hiring and recruitment criteria carefully and making changes to ensure fair and equal consideration for all
  • Take note of other companies who have successfully minimised discrimination or have practices that you are thinking of implementing and learn from them
  • Increase your personal awareness of discrimination and seek feedback to understand where you or the company can improve

4. Employee affinity groups (aka employee resource groups, ERG’s)

An affinity group for employees brings together those with similar backgrounds, interests, or demographic factors such as gender or religion.

For example, women leadership or mentoring programs are a form of an affinity group present in many organisations today. They allow employees to feel welcome and included, promote friendships, and improve communication and teamwork, particularly for underrepresented or marginalised communities.

For employers, they are especially beneficial in identifying gaps in the company that need to be addressed and help tackle workplace discrimination, both in terms of the severity and number of issues that arise.

The methods of managing and preventing workplace discrimination for each employer will vary depending on what resources, funding and means they have available to them. Regardless of what you utilise, having strong practices established and enforced will serve as a long-term investment for the company by preventing the detrimental impacts of workplace discrimination over the long term.

The above methods and means are not the only ways you can tackle the issue, but they are ones that all employers need to consider regardless of the size and type of their organisation.