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8 Types of Discrimination and How to Spot Them

Thousands of people face discrimination in the workplace every year. In 2019, there were 72,675 total charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While the law protects federal employees from discrimination, it does not stop it from happening.

Harassment can take on many forms, which is why it’s important for federal employees to have the resources needed to recognize when their employer is behaving unlawfully. Keep reading to find out the eight most common forms of discrimination in the workplace.

National Origin

National origin discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee unfavorably because they are from another country or part of the world, their ethnicity or accent, or because their physical appearance resembles a certain ethnic background, even if they are not of that ethnicity. Discrimination based on national origin is illegal.

Forms of harassment some may face because of their national origin include:

  • Offensive or derogatory remarks about their nationality, accent, or ethnicity

  • A hostile work environment that is created due to slurs, violence, or other offensive conduct directed to an individual because of their national origin

  • Accent discrimination

  • English fluency requirements that are not required for the job

  • Disparate treatment related to concrete personnel actions based on national origin


Discrimination against age occurs when an employee is treated unfavorably because of their age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against those who are 40-years or older. ADEA doesn’t protect employees under 40, and it is not illegal for an employer to favor an older worker over a younger one. This applies even if both employees are over the age of 40.

Common forms of age harassment and discrimination include:

  • Being fired for getting older

  • Offensive comments about a person’s age

  • Including age preferences or specifications in a job advertisement

  • Asking an applicant how old they are or when they were born

  • Disparate treatment related to concrete personnel actions based on age


Approximately one-third of all EEOC charges in 2019 involved sex-based discrimination. A person can be discriminated against for their sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. It is a Title VII violation to discriminate against someone for their gender.

Forms of harassment commonly seen include:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances

  • Requests for sexual favors

  • Other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature

  • Offensive remarks about a person’s sex

  • Disparate treatment related to concrete personnel actions based on sex

Race & Color

A person’s race is the third most common reason for discrimination in the workplace. It occurs when someone is treated less favorably because of their race or because they exhibit personal characteristics associated with race. Race discrimination is often intermixed with color discrimination, where someone is treated unfavorably due to their skin tone.

People who are discriminated against because of their race may experience:

  • Racial slurs

  • Offensive and derogatory comments about their race or color

  • Shown racially-offensive symbols

  • Physical conduct

  • Disparate treatment related to concrete personnel actions based on race


When an employer that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or the Rehabilitation Act that is applicable to federal agencies, treats a qualified individual with a disability unfairly due to their disability, it is considered discrimination. This can also apply to those with a history of a disability and short-term physical or mental impairments, as well as perceived disability and being associated with someone with a disability. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability unless it would cause an undue burden on the employer’s mission.

Disability harassment and discrimination can include:

  • Offensive comments about a person’s disability

  • Abusive jokes and threats that create a hostile work environment

  • Sexual or physical assault

  • Disparate treatment related to concrete personnel actions based on disability


Discrimination and harassment based on religion are also unlawful. Employees may also be entitled to reasonable accommodation based on their religion.


According to the EEOC, “retaliation is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination in the federal sector and the most common discrimination finding in federal sector cases.”

Retaliation occurs when employers retaliate against employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination and harassment.

Employees can face retaliation related to numerous things, which may go beyond concrete personnel actions, including:

  • Filing an EEO charge, complaint, investigation or lawsuit

  • Refusing to follow orders that can result in being discriminated

  • Protecting yourself or another from unwanted sexual advances

  • Requesting disability or religious practice accommodations

Report Discrimination and Harassment

Remember, you are protected by the law from discrimination from your federal agency. If you have faced discrimination and/or harassment in the workplace, you should initiate a discrimination complaint with an EEO counselor of your agency’s EEO office. To be timely, you must initiate an informal EEO complaint within 45 calendar days of any discriminatory personnel action or the most recent example of discriminatory harassment. To learn more about filing an EEO complaint in federal employment, contact the lawyers at The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC.

We are here to help you. Call us today at (202) 759-7780.