Workplace race discrimination has become more subtle

On Behalf of | Apr 26, 2024 | Employment Law

There was a time when workplace race discrimination was quite overt. Employers openly refused to hire or promote workers from certain backgrounds. Companies ignored hostile work environments where people used racial slurs and mistreated certain employees simply because of their race.

Changing laws and cultural standards have reduced overt expressions of racism in many work environments. People typically feel less comfortable now than in decades past openly disclosing their personal biases and mistreating others based solely on their race.

Despite a reduction in blatant workplace racial discrimination, many workers still experience racial discrimination on the job. They now face more subtle forms of racial discrimination in the workplace, including these particularly common forms of modern racial discrimination.

Inappropriate policies

Employee handbooks and training manuals may include terms that are inappropriate and outdated. Appearance guidelines often include racially-coded language that leads to discrimination against people from certain backgrounds. Policies demanding a certain professional appearance can sometimes include that lead to racial discrimination. For example, prohibitions on certain hairstyles can put those with naturally curly or wavy hair at it disadvantage in the workplace. Even rules requiring that men shave their faces can be a form of racial discrimination, as men from certain backgrounds may be more likely to develop ingrown hairs and razor burns than those of European descent.

The glass ceiling

Discussions about the glass ceiling often focus on women and how they have a difficult time breaking into the upper echelon of management at many organizations. However, the glass ceiling affects people from different racial backgrounds as well. Promotion discrimination where workers cannot move up at a company can have a racial component to it. If workers of only one race get promoted or if no workers of one background obtain advancement opportunities, that can be an indicator of systemic racial discrimination at the company.

Ignored complaints or retaliation

Companies have an obligation not just to foster a healthy work environment but also to respond appropriately to discrimination and misconduct. If a worker reports mistreatment by coworkers because of their race, the company should investigate and to take appropriate measures to resolve the issue. The failure to do so can be its own form of discrimination. Many discrimination claims involved allegations of retaliation. Workers should not have to worry about losing their jobs, getting demoted or facing transfer to another shift or department if they report someone for mistreating them.

Identifying racial discrimination is the first step in the often frustrating process of combating workplace misconduct. Race should not influence a worker’s opportunities or how a company treats an employee. If race does factor into employment decisions, then workers may have reason to pursue a discrimination lawsuit in some cases.


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