American researchers at George Mason University say that workplace discrimination can increase in times of economic turmoil, as employees then feel threatened by outside factors like finances.
Lead researcher Eden King says that a study has revealed that people, who support diversity programs, have changing attitudes in times of economic strife.
The study also suggests that those in hiring positions may be less likely to hire a minority job applicant in an economic downturn, she adds.
King points out that competition for fewer jobs and resources often increases tension among workers, and may especially affect minority groups.
"The reality is, diversity programs and disadvantaged groups may be the first to go in times of economic uncertainty. This causes real problems for people of socially disadvantaged groups," she says.
During the study, she and her colleagues observed that white men and women were more likely to favour the white male candidate when told that the economy might take a downturn, and asked to evaluate four equally qualified candidates for a job.
On the other hand, according to the researchers, another group of white men and women tended to favour the female Hispanic candidate, when they believed that the economy might improve.
"In good economic times, people know they are supposed to support diversity and will tend to hire a minority candidate to get affirmative action points. But when times are tough, people tend to look out for their own group and isolate outsiders, and that's when discrimination can begin to rear its ugly head," says King.
She recommended that people at managerial posts or in human resource departments should be cautious about prejudice in unstable workplace these days.
"They need to understand that the short-term solution of cutting diversity programs might ultimately end up costing them even more in the long-run," she said.