Workplace Rights

Weekly (2/1/21)

Topic of the Week  Racial Harassment

Under federal law it is illegal to harass a person in any aspect of employment because of that person’s race or color. Harassment can include racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s race or color, or the display of racially-offensive symbols. Racial harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim of the harassment being fired or demoted).

1. Who can be classified as a racial harasser and who can be classified as a victim in the workplace?

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee. The victim does not have to be the person harassed but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

2. I think I'm being racially harassed at work. What should I do?

When dealing with racial harassment, there is no one best thing to do, because every situation is different. However, there are two important things to remember, as they affect your ability to pursue legal action should you decide to in the future.

Say no and communicate to the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome.

One legal requirement for racial harassment is that the conduct is "unwelcome." Therefore, you are encouraged to inform your harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. Additionally, do not engage in stereotyping yourself which may lead someone else to think that certain comments are acceptable. Tell the person that his or her behavior offends you. Don't engage in racial banter or joke back in response, or otherwise, send mixed signals. Direct communication, whether verbal or in writing, is better than ignoring the behavior and hoping it will go away.

Report harassment to your employer as soon as possible. It is very important that you report the harassment because your employer in the early stages of the harassment because the employer must know or have reason to know about the harassment to be legally responsible for a co-worker, client or customer's racially harassing conduct. Tell your supervisor, your human resources department or some other department or person within your company who has the power to stop the harassment. It is best to notify them in writing and to keep a copy of any written complaint you make to your employer. Describe the problem and how you want it fixed. This creates a written record of when you complained and what happened in response to it. If there are policies employees are supposed to follow when reporting harassment, you should follow the policy to the fullest extent possible. While you may not think complaining will do any good, your company may later claim it would have stopped the harassment if it had known about it, so reporting the conduct is very important to show that the company was aware of the harassment.

Other strategies you may also want to try at this point:

Write it down. As soon as you experience the harassment, start writing down exactly what happened. Be as specific as possible: write down dates, places, times, and possible witnesses to what happened. If possible, ask coworkers also to write down what they saw or heard, especially if the same thing is happening to them too. Others may read this written record at some point, so be as accurate and objective as possible. Do not keep the record at work, but at home or in some other safe place where you will have access to it in case something suddenly happens at work.

Keep your work records. A harasser may try to defend him or herself by attacking your job performance. Keep copies of any records of your work performance, including copies of your performance evaluations and any memoranda or letters documenting the quality of your work. If you do not have copies of relevant documents, try to gather them (by legitimate means only). Under some state laws or company policies you are allowed to review your personnel file, so you should review your file if that is allowed. You should either make copies of relevant documents or take detailed notes of what is in the file if you are not allowed to copy the contents.

Talk to others. If you can do so safely, talk to other people at work about the harassment. You may find witnesses, allies, or others that have been harassed by the same person or who would be willing to help support you. Tell supportive friends, family members, and colleagues about the abuse. Telling others about the harassment not only can give you much needed support, but it can also be important evidence later. Additionally, it may lead to other victims coming forward about their own endured harassment that they were too scared to address alone.

3. I am being harassed by someone of the same race. Is this racial harassment?

It can be. The key question the law asks is whether the conduct itself would have occurred if the victim had been of a different race: is the harasser harassing the person of the same race in a way that he or she would not harass someone or a different race? It can be demonstrated through the harasser's general hostility to one race, or evidence showing that the alleged harasser in fact targeted only one race.

Thought of the Week

"Racism is part of our inheritance as Americans. Every city, every state and every region of this country has its own deep history with racism. And so does the labor movement."

–Richard Trumka, Sept. 15, 2014, Missouri AFL-CIO Convention

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Blog of the Week

Top Five News Headlines

    List of the Week

    from Economic Policy Institute

    Why the U.S. needs a $15 minimum wage

    For more than a decade, the federal minimum wage has not budged from $7.25 an hour.

    The Raise the Wage Act, introduced in the House Tuesday, would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, narrowing racial and gender pay gaps and strengthening the economic well-being of this country’s lowest-paid workers.   

    Here’s the Act’s upshot:  

    • Raises the minimum wage to $9.50 this year.  
    • Then raises it in steps annually to $15 by 2025.  
    • After that, adjusts the wage to keep pace with the growth of typical worker pay.  
    • Phases out the tipped-worker wage (frozen at $2.13 since 1991)—so that all workers must be paid at least the regular minimum wage.  

    Who will benefit?  

    • 32 million workers—or 21% of the U.S. workforce.  
    • Year-round workers, who will see $3,300 added to their annual income.  
    • Women, who make up the majority of minimum wage earners.  
    • People of color, who make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers.   
    • 60% of workers living in poverty.   
    • Communities, thanks to workers having $107 billion more to spend.


    Weekly: Archive

    Select a date from the list below.

















    ©2022 The Law Office of Bartina Edwards, All Rights Reserved