Racial Discrimination in the Workplace
A cruel and insidious form of workplace harassment is discrimination on the basis of race, color, or ethnic origin. Racial discrimination happens when an employer treats an employee unfavorably based on these factors, and it is strictly illegal.
Unfavorable treatment in this context, known as “disparate treatment,” includes any aspect of employment, such as:
- Firing or layoffs
- Job assignments
- Fringe benefits
An employee may also be subjected to derogatory comments or insults based on race, color, or national origin. This may include racial slurs or the display of racially-offensive images in the workplace.
What is a Racially Hostile Work Environment?
A minor isolated incident, while still highly inappropriate, usually does not meet the legal criteria of racial discrimination or workplace harassment. To establish that there is a racially hostile work environment, the employee must show that:
- The employee is in a protected class.
- The employee was subjected to unwelcome racial or ethnic harassment that was severe or pervasive.
- The harassment created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment that interfered with the employee’s ability to work.
As individual perception may vary, the legal standard is that a reasonable person of the employee’s own race, color, or ethnic origin would agree that the conduct was so extreme or frequent that the employee was justified in feeling threatened.
What is the Employer’s Responsibility?
An employer has a legal duty to prevent and remedy racial discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Simply having a written office policy against workplace harassment is not sufficient if the employer has actual or constructive knowledge that harassment has taken place.
An employer who does not address harassment can become liable for it. It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who has brought a claim of racial discrimination or harassment.
Reporting Racial Discrimination and Harassment
Most employers have a written procedure on reporting discrimination or harassment. If you feel you have been the victim of racial discrimination, it is important to follow the reporting procedure to show that you gave your employer a chance to remedy the situation. You can report the behavior to a supervisor, manager, or HR personnel if your company doesn’t have a written procedure.
Don’t give your employer the opportunity to claim they simply didn’t know racial discrimination was happening. Report the behavior in writing (email, letter, or note) even if you have already reported it verbally. Keep a copy of this and all other relevant information at home or in a secure location outside of work.
Keep a record of the following information about the incidents:
- People involved
- Detailed description of what happened
- Copies of any offensive materials such as pictures or drawings
There are strict deadlines for bringing a lawsuit against your employer for racial discrimination and harassment, so it is important to speak with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights and seek appropriate remedies.
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