How to handle racism in the workplace

Updated March 23, 2017

Racism in the workplace can come in the form of inappropriate comments, racial slurs or the unfair treatment of employees in regards to workloads, pay rates and promotions. Racial discrimination in the workplace is unacceptable, and if unfair hiring practices or favortism is originating from the employer, it is illegal under the rules set forth by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (USEEOC) and violates the racial discrimination standards contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well. If you are subjected to racism in the workplace or witness it happening to those that you work with, don't be afraid to take action so that it is dealt with properly.

Look at the situation objectively to determine whether it is actually a case of racism or simply a misinterpretation of the situation. Racial slurs and other obvious forms of racism are not likely to be misinterpreted, but more subtle comments may not have the racist intention that they appear to have. Ask for a clarification if you aren't sure whether a comment or action was meant to be racist or not.

See if there are alternate explanations for why certain actions were taken. Being overlooked for a promotion, for example, may not be an example of racism if the individual who received the promotion was more qualified for it or had been an employee for longer. Don't assume that the action is racist without knowing more about it first but don't dismiss it if it's possible that there was a racist motivation for the action. Ask your supervisor to find out more, making sure to be polite in your inquiry.

Go over the heads of those who are making racist comments or performing racist actions to report them. Many companies and employers allow employees to report inappropriate behaviour with anonymity, so make sure that you let the supervisor or human resources worker that you talk to know if you would like to remain anonymous.

Take advantage of an internal complaint hotline if your company offers one. These hotlines are generally run by a separate part of the company and report directly to the corporate office, meaning that the investigation into racism claims will come from above instead of being handled within the store or office.

Don't put off reporting racism. If it's obvious that racism has occurred, take action as quickly as possible to report it. If others were present when the comment was made or the action was taken, ask them to come with you to back up your claim.

Contact the USEEOC through a union representative or attorney if your claim of racism in the workplace isn't taken seriously or if it is ignored. The job of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is to make sure that companies follow the law as set forth by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and they will investigate your claim to determine why your company seems unwilling to take any action in regards to your discrimination claim.


Don't be afraid to report racism in the workplace. If negative action is taken against you because you report a fellow employee or a supervisor, you will generally have the option to take legal action because of wrongful termination.

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About the Author

Born in West Virginia, Jack Gerard now lives in Kentucky. A writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience, he has written both articles and poetry for publication in magazines and online. A former nationally ranked sport fencer, Gerard also spent several years as a fencing coach and trainer.