Racial discrimination at work is treating an employee unfairly based on race, color, or ethnicity. Racial discrimination can affect any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, promotions, benefits, compensation, and the work environment. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) enforces the federal laws that prohibit racial discrimination in employment practices. States may have additional anti-discrimination regulations.

Racial discrimination and the law

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is the primary federal law that prohibits discrimination based on racial group, perceived racial group, race-related characteristics (e.g., skin color or hair texture), or marriage or association with someone of a particular race. In addition, the law makes it illegal to use stereotypes regarding the abilities or limitations of people of a particular race when making employment decisions.

The law prohibits both intentional discrimination and job policies that are not specifically job-related but disproportionately affect employees of a certain race. An example could be requiring a high school diploma for a job that primarily requires manual labor-a policy that may exclude minority candidates.

Employers with 15 or more employees must uphold Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The law covers both current employees and applicants, and provides equal protection to people of all races

Protections from racial discrimination at work

Federal law protects employees in the following areas:

Recruiting, hiring, and promotions. Employers must present the same job requirements to applicants of every race. The requirements must be related to the job's function and may not disproportionately exclude members of a certain race. Information about a prospective employee's race should not be included in an application or should be kept separate if the employer requires the information for affirmative-action purposes.

Pay, benefits, and terms of employment. Race may not be the basis for differences in compensation, benefits, work assignments, performance evaluations, training, discipline, termination, or any other condition of employment.

Job classification and segregation. Employers may not exclude an employee from a particular position nor assign an employee to a particular position based on race. It is also illegal to physically isolate employees of a particular race from other employees or customers.

Harassment. Unwelcome offensive conduct in the workplace, including racial slurs and derogatory comments, is prohibited. Employers are required to take the proper steps to prevent or correct these behaviors.

Retaliation. Employers may not fire, demote, or otherwise retaliate against an employee who opposes racial discrimination or participates in an anti-discriminatory proceeding.

Filing a charge of racial discrimination at work

You may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC at no cost. Charges should be filed within 180 days of the incident, or within 300 days of the incident if a state or local law applies.

You don't need a lawyer to file a charge with the EEOC, but you may want to seek legal advice if you pursue a private lawsuit.

Additional resources:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Race/Color Discrimination

Workplace Fairness: Race Discrimination

Related Legal Guides:

Labor Law

Wrongful Termination Law

Wrongful Termination Checklist

Weight Discrimination at Work