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4 types of racial discrimination in the workplace

Race discrimination occurs when employers treat employees or job candidates differently because of their racial identity. Unfair treatment because of race or color can occur in any job. It may be obvious or subtle, and it can take multiple forms.

Federal law prohibits racial discrimination in the employment. Read on for examples of what race discrimination may look like in the workplace.

Race discrimination at work takes many forms

Employment discrimination on the basis of race or color occurs in many ways, even though such behavior is patently illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sometimes the discrimination is blatant, but often it disguised or excused. An employment law attorney can help you decide if your rights have been violated and what your legal remedies may be.

1. Employment decisions

Federal law forbids employers to make decisions on the basis of race or color, including skin tone, hair texture, facial features or other racial characteristics or assumptions. Employment decisions include candidate screening and hiring, assignments and job duties, promotions, disciplinary actions, and firing. Race should not affect any condition or term of employment.

2. Wages or salary

Some employers may implement pay discrepancies based on the race of their employees. For example, a black project manager may make less than a white project manager with comparable training and experience. It is unlawful for an employer to pay someone less simply because of his or her racial identity. 

3. Direct harassment

Harassment is one of the more obvious forms of racial discrimination. Harassing behavior may include using racial slurs or making offensive remarks about skin color or race. Another example of harassment is displaying symbols associated with racism, such as a swastika or Confederate flag. Even teasing or subtle comments can be illegal when they are severe or frequent. 

4. Policies and practices

Certain employment policies can be discriminatory even if they ostensibly apply to all. For example, it may be unlawful to require that candidates be native English speakers, especially if someone who speaks English fluently as a second language is denied employment despite meeting all other qualifications. Other examples are rules about hairstyles or clothing that are clearly or subtly aimed at certain racial or ethnic groups.

Do you suspect you are being mistreated because of your race?

It may be difficult to detect racial harassment at first. Sometimes discriminatory actions or policies can be hard to pinpoint. However, anyone who thinks he or she is experiencing racism at work should not pass it off as something harmless. Employees who experience racial discrimination can take legal action against employers who partake in illegal racist acts.

Source: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (

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