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How Does Workplace Discrimination Trigger Trauma?

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Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination of many kinds in the workplace is illegal but still occurs. For many workers, race discrimination remains their greatest obstacle to success and is certain to continue despite efforts to put an end to it. When individual workers are subjected to workplace discrimination, an experienced employment lawyer might be the best resource for holding liable parties and employers responsible for ongoing workplace discrimination.

When the discrimination leads to trauma, legal remedies are available. The following information describes some of the more commonly occurring types of workplace discrimination and the trauma that discrimination could cause a good person to suffer.

Pervasive Workplace Discrimination Continues

In January 2021, Gallup published a study on the current state of discrimination in the workplace. The numbers show a significant majority of workers polled said they did not personally experience discrimination while on the job. Of all U.S. workers polled, 18 percent said they experienced workplace discrimination during the past year.

However, the numbers are significantly higher for Black and Hispanic workers. Nearly one in four Black and Hispanic workers, 24 percent, said they experienced workplace discrimination within the past year. That is nine points higher than the 15 percent of white workers victimized by discrimination.

The Gallup study did not provide numbers on Asian, aboriginal, or other races beyond Black, Hispanic, and white. It collected data via an online poll of more than 8,000 people in November and December 2020. Respondents included about 3,500 white, 2,000 Black, and 2,000 Hispanic workers.

Age impacts the reports of discrimination among Black and Hispanic workers. Black and Hispanic workers who are under age 40 are about twice as likely to report experiencing workplace discrimination than their counterparts who are over age 40.

Race-Based Discrimination is Most Pervasive

Of the workers who reported experiencing discrimination, race was the most pervasive form for Blacks and Hispanics. About 75 percent of Black workers reported race as the issue triggering the workplace discrimination. The younger the Black worker, the more likely he or she has experienced race discrimination in the workplace.

Clearly, racial discrimination is the most pervasive in the workplace, but others occur with regular frequency. Other types of commonly reported workplace discrimination include the following:

  • Disability-based
  • Pregnancy
  • Gender-based
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religious-based

Those are just several of the many types of workplace discrimination that could occur, and all of them carry significant psychological effects for the victims of workplace discrimination. Although racially based discrimination occurs most frequently, the same ongoing ill effects, including mental health effects, are serious issues with all types of workplace discrimination.

Disability discrimination and pregnancy discrimination both assume the worker’s level of ability. They might cause management to hide the worker from the public or otherwise give work assignments based on a bias because of a disability or pregnancy.

Gender discrimination might include assigning tasks based on gender biases rather than actual worker ability. Age discrimination generally occurs when a worker is over age 40 and suddenly is passed over for promotions or other assignments because of age. Younger workers also might disregard the viewpoints of older workers as outdated rather than fully relevant.

Sexual orientation discrimination often occurs when workers, managers, or supervisors disapprove of a worker’s perceived sexual orientation. The worker might be targeted with derogatory comments or otherwise treated in a passive-aggressive manner that could lead to open hostility.

Microaggressions Contribute to Discrimination

Discrimination comes in many forms, but Gallup respondents mostly cited several types of relatively low-level discrimination that researchers rank as microaggressions rather than overt acts. A microaggression can cause a subtle but deep impact on the psyche of an affected worker and carry the same impact as outright racial discrimination and others.

The most commonly cited microaggressions reported by Gallup occur when people:

  • Act like they are better than them.
  • Act like they are smarter than them.
  • Treat them with less courtesy than they do with others.
  • Treat them with less respect than they do with others.
  • Act like they think they are dishonest.
  • Act like they are afraid of them.
  • Provide worse service than they do for others in restaurants or stores.

The Gallup study shows Blacks are far more likely to experience microaggressions than Hispanic, Asian, or white adults and co-workers. Black men in particular said they often are treated like people are afraid of them, receive less courteous service, and often are treated like they are dishonest based solely on their race and gender.

Younger and middle-aged Black adults of both genders are much more likely than older Black adults to report being treated with disrespect and say they had people act like they were better than them. Younger and middle-aged Black adults were more than twice as likely, at 40 percent, to report those microaggressions than older Black adults, among whom 16 percent reported such experiences, according to Gallup.

PTSD Commonly Arises from Workplace Discrimination

The effects of workplace discrimination are very real and can have negative impacts on victimized workers and their families. Among the most prevalent is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which many people often associate with military combat veterans.

The American Psychological Association (APA) says PTSD is an anxiety problem that can develop in people after they experience highly traumatic events. Those events could include crime, combat, an accident, or a natural disaster. They also include workplace discrimination. When that discrimination is race based, the APA refers to it as racial trauma.

The trauma from workplace racism could trigger a PTSD diagnosis in the victim of workplace discrimination. Racial trauma could include experiencing the trauma over and over again and avoiding reminders of the trauma. It also could include negative moods or thoughts combined with hyperarousal of potential threats.

The APA says any or all of those symptoms could materialize as a result of racial trauma and are just as potentially debilitating as fully blown PTSD. The existence of one or even all four of the above described ill effects of racial trauma might be due at least in part to the onset of PTSD. But having one or even all four of the debilitating effects does not automatically mean the racial trauma has reached the level of PTSD, but it could.

Employer Response Matters

When a worker experiences discrimination in the workplace, Gallup says how the employer likely would handle a discrimination complaint makes a big difference. If the employer takes a legitimate complaint seriously and does what is right, the aggrieved worker generally feels a higher level of workplace engagement. But when the employer does not take a legitimate complaint seriously and address the matter, the worker does not feel a high level of workplace engagement.

The way in which a worker expects an employer to respond to complaints of workplace discrimination ultimately determines his or her level of engagement. Engagement is another way of describing workplace morale and how individual workers generally feel about their jobs. When workers generally obtain fair treatment, they report higher levels of workplace satisfaction, respect, and engagement.

Managers, supervisors, executives, and owners are the ones who instill a sense of high engagement and respect within the workplace. When employees of virtually any race report having outstanding managers and supervisors in the workplace, they tend to report lower instances of discrimination. They also report much more satisfying and supportive working environments.

Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Fight Employment Discrimination and Trauma

Workplace discrimination often leads to trauma that can have very lasting effects on individuals. The way in which an employer handles complaints of racial discrimination and other types of workplace discrimination greatly affects the overall impact of a victimized worker. The experienced Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. fight employment discrimination and trauma arising from it. We can help you press discrimination complaints and more effectively argue for compensation you deserve for discrimination-triggered trauma. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. With offices in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.

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