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What prohibits racial discrimination at work?

Racial discrimination is something that doesn't belong anywhere, but especially in the workplace.

That's why federal and state laws formally acknowledge that it happens and take steps to prohibit it.

Federally, the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes a section known as Title VII. It officially forbids the following sort of practices:

  • Breaking job applicants or employees into categories according to their racial identification
  • Making hiring decisions based on an applicant's race
  • Paying employees of one race at a different rate than employees of another race for the same work
  • Refusing to promote employees of a certain race (or promoting only those of one race)
  • Giving preferential treatment to some employees, based on race, for unique job opportunities, better hours or better work assignments
  • Disciplining employees of one race differently than another
  • When choosing whom to let go during a reorganization or slump in work, picking out those of one race and not the others

In California, the Fair Employment Act reiterates these rights. It applies to any employer with more than four employees and extends protection to independent contractors, unpaid interns and volunteers as well. It also prohibits racial harassment regardless of an employer's size.

The problem with race-based work discrimination is that it can be very hard to detect -- especially if an employer is smart enough to keep his or her racial motivations a secret.

Because it can be difficult to prove, racial discrimination is often best shown as a pattern of behavior, rather than a single incident.

For example, it may be hard to prove that an employer is discriminating among job applicants based on race until you've witnessed several equally qualified candidates go by and you realize that it is always the applicants of one race who are chosen.

It may be easier to show racially-based behavior that takes place on the job, rather than in the hiring process. For example, if every time there's a slump in business the factory boss lays off only the Vietnamese employees, while keeping everyone else, that's more clearly prohibited behavior.

Racial discrimination at work isn't going to stop unless people take a stand and assert their rights. That's why it's important to explore all your legal options if you believe racial discrimination was behind an incident with an employer.

Source: FindLaw, "Racial Discrimination in the Workplace," accessed Feb. 09, 2018

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