Workplace Discrimination Etiquette 6 Rules: How To Avoid It Best

The crucial workplace discrimination etiquette rules. The appropriate behaviors to avoid the most common forms of discrimination at work. Follow these rules to be inclusive, avoid offending others, and contribute to a positive workplace.

What workplace discrimination etiquette is

Workplace discrimination etiquette is the set of rules to be inclusive and avoid discrimination at work. Such rules include:

  • How to train yourself to avoid workplace discrimination.
  • The inappropriate behaviors to avoid.
  • How to deal with discrimination at work.

As a manager or employer, respect workplace discrimination etiquette to avoid discriminatory behaviors, respect others, and ensure an inclusive and positive culture in your team.

As an employee, follow workplace discrimination etiquette to constructively work with your team and partners. If you experience or witness discrimination at work, follow the etiquette rules to appropriately deal with the offending party.

General workplace discrimination etiquette principles

People tend to feel more comfortable with someone who is similar to them. Such as someone with the same gender, ethnicity, age, religion, and so on. Thus, when people perceive diversity, they may get uncomfortable or defensive. However, every employer and manager has the duty to ensure an inclusive culture at work. Failing to do so can result in serious reputation damages and legal action.

Workplace discrimination etiquette is based on three main principles:

  • Help people positively perceive diversity and avoid prejudice.
  • Ensure equal treatment at work.
  • Avoid any behavior that can offend others based on their personal traits.
how to avoid workplace discrimination

Workplace discrimination etiquette rules

1) Think in terms of roles

Train yourself to think about your coworkers, managers, and business partners based on their roles instead of their personal attributes. For example, Anna and Paul are Sales Managers in your company. Do not think of them as “Anna” and “Paul”. Or as a female and a male. Train yourself to think of them both as a Sales Manager.

Personal attributes do not affect how a person will perform in a role. Gender, religion, political views, sexual orientation, age, or other attributes are almost always irrelevant and do not impact performance.

Workplace discrimination happens when we fail to think in terms of roles. If we think in terms of personal attributes, then we allow bias and prejudice to interfere with our judgment.

Race, ethnicity, and cultural heritage

Racism is prejudice or hostility on the basis of attributes such as race, ethnicity, or cultural heritage. Such attributes do not impact how an individual performs tasks or in a role. Thus, they do not belong to the workplace.

However, a modern workplace positively values diversity and strives to build a culturally rich and diverse workforce. Thus, it may be appropriate for an employer to actively seek to hire and promote employees that enrich the team’s cultural mix.


Sexism is prejudice or hostility on the basis of gender. It includes hostility against pregnancy or gender self-identification. In the workplace, gender does not impact performance. Thus, it is best to train ourselves to be gender-blind at work. Try to see people as “roles”. An employee is an employee, regardless of gender.

Sexual orientation

Sexual discrimination is prejudice or hostility on the basis of sexual orientation. Like gender, sexual preferences do not affect one’s ability to perform a job. Thus, they do not belong to the workplace. It is best to ignore them, avoid any remarks about sexual preferences, and respect other people’s private lives.  

Physical traits or conditions 

In most countries, it is illegal to discriminate based on one’s physical traits, disability, or other conditions. Furthermore, such attributes do not define a person or the ability to perform in a role. Examples include:

  • Disability.
  • Medical condition.
  • Height.
  • Weight. 
  • Body shape.


Age discrimination is prejudice or hostility against a person on the basis of age. Targets can belong to any age group. The most common targets are over the age of 40.

Age does not affect one’s ability to perform a job. Thus, age should not be considered at all in the workplace. Instead, it is best to focus on objective factors, such as the type of experience or past performance.

Status as a parent

Parents are often discriminated against at work. A common prejudice is that parents tend to work fewer hours. However, there is no data to support this belief. Furthermore, parents usually make extra efforts to manage commitments in their private and work lives. An inclusive workplace must recognize such extra efforts and allow flexibility when needed.

Political views 

Political ideas do not affect one’s ability to perform in a role. Furthermore, political views belong to private life. Thus, it is best to avoid discussing politics altogether at work.

The ability to accept ideas different from our own is the basis of a democratic society. Thus, a positive and inclusive workplace must welcome real diversity and accept everyone, even if their views are opposite to ours. Suppressing opinion diversity is a typical feature of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes.


Religion does not affect one’s ability to perform a job. Furthermore, religious beliefs and practices belong to private life. Thus, it is best to avoid discussing religion in the workplace. 

However, an inclusive workplace must respect, welcome, and accommodate people of all religions. A positive workplace culture facilitates people to observe their religion. Examples include:


It is not acceptable to discriminate against someone as retaliation. Examples include:

  • Hostility due to actions performed by employees as part of their duties. Such as an employee questioning the quality of other people’s work. 
  • Internal competition between employees.
  • Whistleblowing.

2) Avoid generalization about roles and tasks

It is inappropriate to assume that a role or task is reserved for male or female employees. There are no male or female jobs. Employees will not perform any task better or worse on the basis of their gender alone. Thus, employers and employees both should reject the idea of gender-specific roles.

The same principle applies to any other personal attribute, such as age or parental status. Employees should apply to any role that matches their skills, expertise, and ambition. Employers should hire anyone who is a good match for the role based solely on objective factors.

3) Challenge your own prejudice

Prejudice leads to racism and discrimination. Thus, to avoid workplace discrimination and ensure equal opportunities, we need to fight our own prejudices.

Train yourself to challenge your own prejudice. Ask yourself whether your opinion about someone is based on your experience or on what other people say. It is best to base our opinions on our own first-hand experience. We cannot rely solely on what others may say or may have experienced, as they might be biased.

Similarly, ask yourself whether your opinion about someone would change if the person belonged to another affinity group. Are there objective facts that informed your opinion? Or is your opinion based mostly on perceived factors?

Ensure objective evaluations

Managers and employers must make objective performance evaluations to ensure equal opportunities. Such evaluations are appropriate on any occasion that involves a decision about an employee or a role. Such as:

  • Assigning tasks and roles. 
  • Reviewing performance.
  • Promoting and rewarding.

An objective evaluation takes into consideration only objective factors, such as data and facts. Personal attributes must be excluded. Qualitative and subjective elements should be excluded too, such as anything that is expressed with adjectives or adverbs. For example, avoid “hard-working” or “impulsive”. Instead, state the data or facts that proved a person as “hard-working” or “impulsive”.

4) Adopt an inclusive and neutral language

Never refer to someone by their physical traits, body parts, gender, or any other personal attribute. Similarly, avoid slurs or any term that can be perceived as derogatory based on someone’s personal attributes.

When you refer to a generic role or person, use gender-neutral pronouns. For example:

  • We are hiring a new marketing manager. He will be in charge of marketing. [Inappropriate]
  • We are hiring a new marketing manager. He/She will be in charge of marketing. [Appropriate]
  • We are hiring a new marketing manager. They will be in charge of marketing. [Appropriate]

The first sentence is inappropriate, as it suggests a preference for a male candidate. The other two sentences are appropriate, as they imply equality.

Avoid words, thoughts, or sentences that imply segregation. Such as “we” as opposed to “you” (your group) or “they”.

5) Avoid sensitive or personal topics 

In the workplace, the safest course of action is to keep professional and personal lives separate. Unless when it is strictly necessary, it is best to avoid personal questions.

Avoid conversation topics that can be controversial, too personal, or at risk of misinterpretation. People that have experienced significant discrimination may be particularly sensitive to some topics. Politics, religion, or history may be inappropriate, as they depend largely on personal preferences and interpretations.

It is most appropriate to make small talk to get to know other people. Small talk help build rapport, understand boundaries, and avoid venturing into conversation topics that may be sensitive.

Make an extra effort to avoid personal topics that might lead to discriminatory behavior and thus are illegal. As an example, any reference to maternity or paternity during a job interview or a performance review is not allowed.

6) Be tolerant of workplace discrimination mistakes

Discrimination is wrong and it should be prevented. However, it is the best etiquette to avoid confrontation. Instead, when possible, choose tolerance and dialogue.

People are generally good and want to be good. Workplace discrimination often comes from a lack of education about management and equality or exposure to diversity. Thus, the best cure against discrimination at work is to patiently educate people and expose them to diversity in a non-threatening way.

When someone makes an offensive remark, do not confront them. Instead, patiently make them aware that their remark or behavior can be offensive to you. Briefly explain your reasons.

Try your best to not sound judgemental or self-righteous. Instead, consider yourself privileged because you received education about equality or exposure to diversity, while the other person clearly did not.

Escalate when necessary

On the one hand, do not expect immediate results. People need time to learn, absorb experiences, understand their mistakes, and learn from them. Be tolerant and have faith in others and their goodwill.

On the other hand, every employer has the duty to create a work environment that is welcoming and inclusive. While a tolerant attitude is most appropriate in informal and social circles, discrimination should not be tolerated in any professional or institutional setting.

If you experience or witness discrimination at work, you can politely correct the offending party. If the issue persists, involve your manager or the human resources function.

When you find yourself in a work environment where discrimination is endemic, it may be best not to start a crusade and leave. However, many countries have laws against workplace discrimination. Thus, in some cases, it can be perfectly appropriate to exercise your rights and take legal action.

workplace discrimination mistakes

Workplace discrimination etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst workplace discrimination etiquette mistakes. 

  • 10/10. Discriminating based on someone’s personal attributes.
  • 10/10. Tolerating persistent workplace discrimination.
  • 9/10. Making generalizations about roles and tasks.
  • 8/10. Speaking in a non-inclusive language.
  • 8/10. Making subjective performance evaluations.


  • U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention