Racial Discrimination in the Workplace: How to Stand Up for Your Rights and The Rights of Others

We are heartbroken over the brutal deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and all the others who have lost their lives to senseless racism. As employee rights attorneys, we have seen racial discrimination in action, and we fight for everyone to be treated with the fairness and dignity they deserve. We also stand with the peaceful protestors and activists seeking long overdue changes.

As racial tensions reach a boiling point in the United States, we want to take this opportunity to discuss racial discrimination in the workplace. Despite laws and progress made in some sectors to curb racial discrimination, it still exists in nearly every aspect of American life.

At Jackson Spencer, we represent employees who have been victims of racial discrimination in the workplace. In fact, we have helped victims of racial discrimination obtain substantial settlements.

The types of discrimination we have seen range from overt to more subtle forms of racism, including:

  • An employer’s refusal to hire employees of certain races;
  • Consistent inappropriate comments about certain races in the workplace;
  • Unfairly disciplining individuals or refusing to promote due to their race;
  • Exclusion of racial minorities from work or social events;
  • Questioning employees’ judgment because of their race.

In this article, we will provide advice on how to respond if you experience racial discrimination in the workplace. We will also discuss how to protest or take a stand against racial injustice without suffering negative repercussions to your career.

Let’s start with a review of what to do if you think you are being discriminated against at work.

How to Respond to Racial Discrimination

If you are a victim of racial discrimination at work, it’s important to remain calm and collected. We understand that discrimination can be infuriating, but yelling, cussing, or threatening your boss with a lawsuit could possibly hurt your case. This also means refraining from posting negative comments about your boss, company, or coworkers on social media.

Instead, channel your anger into something productive like contacting an employee rights attorney. An experienced attorney can help you determine if you have an actionable claim, which could lead to a legal win for you and help put a stop to the workplace discrimination you experienced (an outcome that will likely benefit others as well).

If your employer is promoting others above you, it helps to ask for written feedback from your manager regarding what you can do to improve. This way you can ensure you are doing your job to the best of your ability before assuming that discrimination is to blame.

Once you start noticing acts of discrimination or unfairness, keep a record of incidents in a notebook that you keep at home. Be sure to record past incidents as well as current ones, and keep track of the date, time, and location of the incidents as well as the names of anyone involved. This might also include keeping track of the names of people who are receiving more favorable treatment than you. Identifying others that receive preferential treatment may help a lawyer determine if you have a discrimination claim.

Finally, it is important to report discriminatory treatment to your company’s human resources department. If your employer has a policy for reporting mistreatment, be sure to follow the policy. Some employers may request that you report mistreatment to supervisors and management in addition to human resources. If your company reacts poorly to your report, by cutting your pay, reducing your schedule, or terminating you, you might have a claim for retaliation.

For more information about responding to racial discrimination in the workplace, read our article on the subject here.

Protests, Social Media & Your Rights in the Workplace

Free speech is a constitutional right, but it can still negatively impact your career. At Jackson Spencer, we support your right to peacefully protest and want to ensure you do not suffer any negative consequences for speaking out.

Many at-will employers have policies that prohibit employees from engaging in behavior that would “damage the company’s reputation or brand.” Some employers may try to use such a policy as an excuse for firing employees who get observed protesting.

One way to protect yourself from such a response is to keep your activism separate from your role as an employee. For instance, you should not wear clothes that identify your employer (showing the company name or logo) while protesting. Also keep your protests as far away from the workplace as possible. If you get caught protesting in front of the office, or worse, vandalism or destruction occurs, you could get fired.

A lot of employees think that they cannot be punished for what they do outside of work hours, but in many cases, that is simply not true. While employers may not be able to limit the types of events employees attend outside of work, they typically have leeway to limit what employees post on social media. Chances are, your employer has a social media policy that prohibits you from posting disparaging, controversial, or reputation-damaging content.

This is one reason it’s wise to keep your personal social media profiles separate and private from any professional accounts. You can also keep friends and family on a separate account from any of your coworkers. This way, you may still be able to share your activism and political beliefs with close friends while reducing the chances it will overlap into your work life.

If you do join a protest, it is best to avoid profanity and stay clear of news cameras to the best of your ability. The more you are able to blend in with a crowd, the less likely you are to experience negative repercussions to your career.

The Attorneys at Jackson Spencer are Here to Help

If you are experiencing racial discrimination at work, call Jackson Spencer Law for a free consultation at 972-301-2937 or contact us via our website. Our experienced legal team can help determine the best recourse for you, including helping you decide if filing with a state or federal agency would be a good decision.