Most work environments have some element of stress that goes along with the job. However, when you have to deal with racial discrimination in the workplace, it creates an entirely different level of stress that no one should ever have to endure. Despite social advances in the last 60 years, racial discrimination is still an ongoing problem in the workplace.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Racial discrimination is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act prohibits employment discrimination based on the following protected classes: race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
The law has since been interpreted to show that racial, religious and sexual harassment can constitute unlawful discrimination if it creates a hostile work environment, making changes to the employee’s working conditions or making it difficult or next to impossible to work.
As a part of the Act, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission was created to enforce the laws that govern racial discrimination. In doing so, the EEOC monitors violations and investigates all claims of racial discrimination between employers and employees.
According to the EEOC, the following requirements must be met in order to make a case for hostile work environment:
- The harassment must prove to be severe or pervasive. In most cases, one isolated incident will not be adequate enough to constitute harassment.
- The harassment must take place against someone who belongs to one of the protected classes mentioned above.
- The harassment is based on an objective standard. This means that the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to do anything to stop it, therefore contributing to the hostile environment.
Types of racial discrimination
Racial discrimination can come in many forms. Sometimes it is blatant and sometimes it is less recognizable. Here are a few examples of what constitutes racial discrimination:
- Employment Decisions – An employer is not allowed to discriminate against an employee on the basis of their race or color. An employer who decides to interview an applicant with an exceptional resume suddenly decides that he isn’t going to hire him because when the applicant shows up to the interview he is a black man. This is a form of racial discrimination in the workplace. Race should not affect any type of employment decision in any way.
- Salary and Wages – An employer who pays a Caucasian employee more than a Hispanic employee in the same position with comparable experience is committing an act of employment discrimination. It is illegal for an employer to pay their employee less because of their skin color.
- Discriminatory Harassment – An employer who exhibits harassing behavior may include using racial slurs or making other derogatory comments about the employee’s race or skin color. This is a more obvious form of racial discrimination.
What are racial slurs?
As we discussed earlier, racial slurs are a form of unlawful discrimination. A racial slur is defined as the unwelcome verbal conduct toward another person that is based on their race or national origin. Racist jokes can also be categorized as a racial slur. The harasser can be virtually anyone in your workplace environment: a coworker, a supervisor, or even a customer.
Do racial slurs create a hostile work environment?
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell exactly what is harassment. Telling lewd jokes is common in many work environments. The law does not protect against simple teasing or one instance of an offhand joke, but when it comes to harassment attributed to someone’s race, it is illegal and creates a hostile work environment. Unlike the other forms of harassment, even just one instance of a racial slur is enough to create a hostile work environment.
How does the court determine whether a hostile work environment exists?
The courts have their own methods for determining whether a hostile work environment exists or not. Let’s take a look at a few of their determination factors.
- When the action taken by the harasser discriminates against one of the protected classes, including race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age.
- When the harasser’s behavior was offensive, continual, and was not investigated by the employer in a timely manner.
- When the actions taken by the harasser were severe enough to get in the way of the employee’s work or future career advancement.
- If the employer was aware of the harassment and did nothing to continue the harassment, then the employer may be held liable.
- When the victim of the harassment felt that they had to tolerate the harasser’s behavior in order to stay employed.
What should employers do to prevent a hostile work environment for their employees?
No employee should have to endure a hostile work environment where they face racial discrimination. A hostile work environment can also create legal liability for the employer. It is important for employers to be aware and vigilant of the work environment, but to also have measures in place that address this kind of behavior. Here are some steps that an employer to take to help prevent a hostile work environment:
- Create strong policies in the employee handbook that enforce a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to discrimination and racial harassment.
- Investigate immediately any and all complaints of discrimination or racial harassment.
- Take immediate action to correct any instances of discrimination or racial harassment that has been determined to have taken place.
- Institute regular training for all employees that address discrimination and racial harassment.
Should I consult an attorney?
If you feel that you have been a victim of racial discrimination, then you need to contact a lawyer immediately. There are many lawyers who will offer to take your case, but it is important to select an attorney that specializes in employment law. At Swartz Swidler LLC, we fight for workers’ rights and have a track record of success. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Fill out the contact form today!