Overview: Both Title VII and various state and local laws prohibit employee discrimination and harassment based on an individual's race or color. Employers should understand that racial harassment may involve the use of demeaning names or stereotypes, offensive jokes, graphics and cartoon, remarks about the Ku Klux Klan, slavery or the displaying of nooses and other offensive gestures or comments.
To prevent racial harassment, an employer should have a policy that strictly prohibits harassment based on race or color. Further, an employer should have a system in place so that complaints of race harassment can be easily made by employees and quickly responded to by the employer.
Further, all employees and supervisors should be trained on how to handle instances of racial harassment and to immediately report them in order to create a more tolerant and diverse workplace in which all employees are valued and respected regardless of race or color.
Trends: Employers should also be aware that various states and localities prohibit discrimination and harassment based on hair texture or hair style associated with race and expand the definition of race to include discrimination based on traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles, such as braids, dreadlocks and twists. Therefore, employers should be careful about prohibiting employees from wearing braids, locks, twists and other hairstyles that are historically associated with race or requesting that employees change or alter their hairstyle to conform to the employer's appearance standards.
Author: Beth P. Zoller, JD, Legal Editor
Updated to reflect addition of information regarding discrimination based on hair texture or hair style.
This How To details the steps a prudent employer should take to handle an employee making racist comments.
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HR guidance on preventing and responding to workplace racial harassment, including implementing a policy, providing employees and supervisors with training and effectively responding to complaints.