What to Do When Disability Discrimination Occurs in the Workplace

Photo by Icons8 Team from Unsplash. The above picture shows a woman sitting at a work desk with her laptop open and her head turned looking over her left shoulder.

We can all agree that diversity and inclusion are the keystones of a thriving, innovative workforce. 

However, despite the strides we've made in fostering equality, instances of disability discrimination can still cast shadows across professional landscapes. 

This article is your guide through the maze of workplace disability discrimination, offering practical steps on using internal channels, knowing when legal support is needed, and fostering a workplace culture that embraces everyone. 

Let's not just tackle discrimination but plant the seeds of workplaces where everyone is valued and celebrated for their unique contributions.

How to Address Workplace Disability Discrimination?

Addressing workplace disability discrimination is not just about navigating challenges. It’s pretty much about a commitment to fostering an environment where every individual is valued and included.

So, what are practical steps that can help you confront and overcome instances of discrimination at work?

Understand Your Rights

Before anything else, familiarize yourself with relevant disability discrimination laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States or the Equality Act in the United Kingdom. 

Knowing your rights is essential when addressing discrimination. It’s always better to understand how the law defines "disability" in the first place. This definition is often broad and includes physical, mental, and sensory impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities. 

Navigating Internal Channels

Now, let’s move on to the real “actions.” When faced with disability discrimination in the workplace, the first steps can often be the most critical. In this case, internal channels provide a foundation for resolution. 

Begin by documenting incidents and keeping a record of dates, times, as well as all the details of each occurrence. 

It's important to familiarize yourself with your company's policies regarding discrimination and make note of the appropriate channels for reporting such incidents. Companies typically have guidelines on how to handle workplace discrimination.

This might involve contacting your HR department, a supervisor, or using a designated reporting system if available.  Understanding these policies and stakeholders who are responsible and reliable at the same time can help you navigate the process more effectively.

Remember, clear communication is crucial here. After all, it’s about articulating the specifics of the issue and how it impacts your work environment, which can expedite the resolution process.

Network and Support

Connect with friends, family, or a mental health professional who can provide a supportive space for you to express your feelings. Having a strong support system is crucial during challenging times.

To get an even more support system, you can identify and connect with local or national disability advocacy groups. These organizations often have resources, support networks, and expertise in dealing with workplace discrimination. They can offer guidance on your rights, share experiences, and provide information on best practices for addressing discrimination.

The support group isn’t limited to offline gatherings. You can also join online communities where individuals with disabilities share their workplace experiences. These platforms can be valuable for exchanging advice, coping strategies, and emotional support. 

Seeking Legal Assistance

Internal channels might be and should be the first, most actionable step to take, but in some cases, it just may not yield the desired results, or the discrimination may persist. This is when knowing how and when to seek legal assistance becomes crucial. 

Consult with an employment lawyer who specializes in disability discrimination cases to understand your rights and options. They can provide guidance on whether filing a complaint with a government agency or pursuing legal action is the appropriate next step. 

Legal recourse is a potent tool in ensuring that justice prevails and that discriminatory practices are not tolerated within the workplace.


Dealing with workplace discrimination can be emotionally challenging. Recognize and validate your emotions. It's natural to feel anger, frustration, sadness, or anxiety when experiencing discrimination. Acknowledging these feelings is the first step towards managing them.

Next, you might as well establish clear boundaries to protect your well-being. This may involve limiting exposure to negative situations, knowing when to take breaks, and communicating your needs to colleagues and supervisors.

Consider Alternative Resolutions

While it’s normal that filing a formal complaint seems like the last resort, consider exploring alternative resolutions. This can be mediation or arbitration– to resolve the issue outside of the formal legal process. These two methods may offer a more collaborative approach to finding a solution.

Make sure you engage in open and honest negotiations with your HR department. Share your concerns, present your documentation, and work together to find a resolution that addresses the discrimination without resorting to legal action.

Promoting a Culture of Inclusivity

Beyond individual actions, creating lasting change involves fostering a culture of inclusivity within the organization. Advocate for diversity and inclusion training programs that educate employees on the importance of embracing differences.

Encourage open dialogues about disability in the workplace, breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions. Leadership plays a pivotal role – executives and managers should actively champion inclusivity, setting an example for the entire team. 

Establishing support groups or networks for individuals with disabilities can further amplify the sense of belonging. By collectively working towards a culture that values and respects every employee, we contribute to a workplace where discrimination struggles to find a foothold.

When Is It Time to Take Some Actions?

Regardless of your job position– whether you're a social media content creator or a senior executive, taking action against workplace disability discrimination is crucial. But, the timing may vary based on the specific circumstances. The decision to take action should be thoughtful and strategic.

 It's often helpful to consult with legal professionals, human resources, or advocacy groups specializing in disability rights to assess the best course of action based on your specific situation and jurisdiction.

Here are signs that it may be time for you to take action:

  • Visible Patterns of Discriminations:  If you experience repeated instances of discrimination, especially after attempting to address the issue informally, it may be time to escalate the matter.

  • Negative Impact on Well-Being: When discrimination negatively affects your mental or physical health, it's a clear indicator that action is needed. Remember, your well-being should be a priority.

  • Violation of Legal Rights: If the discrimination violates your legal rights as outlined in disability anti-discrimination laws, it's time to consider more formal actions. 

  • No Resolution Through Informal Channels:  If attempts to resolve the issue through informal channels, such as talking to the person responsible or involving supervisors, prove unsuccessful, it may be necessary to move to more formal processes.

  • Adverse Impact on Work Performance: When discrimination hinders your ability to perform your job effectively or impedes career advancement, it's a sign that action is warranted to protect your professional interests.

Wrapping Up

Fighting against discrimination at work should be a collective effort that benefits both employees and companies alike. 

By fostering an environment free from discrimination, companies unlock the full potential of diverse talents, creativity, and perspectives. Embracing inclusivity not only aligns with ethical principles but also contributes to a more vibrant, innovative, and harmonious workplace. 

Remember, when individuals take a stand against discrimination, they not only empower themselves but also play a pivotal role in shaping a work culture that thrives on equality and mutual respect. It's a win-win for everyone involved.