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Bullying vs. discrimination in the workplace

With many people spending the majority of their time at work, one would hope that employees could enjoy positive work environments. However, this is not the case for everyone.

In some cases, people experience forms of bullying or discrimination. Is there really a difference between the two? Taking a look at their definitions can help to shed some light.


Discrimination is the unjust treatment of individuals due to their differences. The main determining factor of discrimination is the causing factor. In other words, it is discrimination when a party treats another party negatively because of the other party's differences, whether they be national origin, age, disability or anything else that sets the party apart. As times change, so do the various classifications that the general population comes to accept. As such, discriminatory classes continue to grow and evolve.


When people experience workplace bullying, they feel trapped or defenseless against the harassing behavior of another party on a consistent basis. Bullying can take a few different forms, including physical and verbal, and may come from men or women, supervisors or co-workers. In short, anyone may be a bully or a victim of a bully.

The connection

Both discrimination and bullying involve putting a person down, and both create a hostile work environment. However, they are not one and the same. While discrimination focuses on the differences between people, bullying comes from inner motivation. For example, a man may bully another man, but since they are of the same class, it may not be discrimination. On the other hand, there are some instances where bullying can be discrimination. In the case where a male employee constantly harasses another male employee with a different sexual orientation, it may be bullying and discrimination.

Though there are some connections between bullying and discrimination, they are still separate actions. Understanding these differences can help employees and employers in understanding how to best address them.

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