Racial discrimination in the workplace often takes the form of supposed “jokes.” While an occasional such comment may be innocent, other remarks create a hostile work environment that constitutes discrimination.
If you feel uncomfortable at work because of joking comments that center around your race, review the factors that determine when this type of conduct becomes protected discrimination.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recognizes both race and color discrimination. Federal employment laws protect workers and job applicants from remarks that refer to:
- Facial features, skin color, hair texture or other personal race-associated characteristics
- Their relationship with or marriage to a person of another color or race
Jokes about these subjects can constitute discrimination even when the victim and the perpetrator share the same color and race. The perpetrator can be a customer, client, coworker, colleague or supervisor.
Extent of harassment
Jokes at work become harassment when they center on the protected subjects above. However, you cannot file a complaint because of a one-time incident or thoughtless comment. The law protects against severe and frequent jokes that become harassment because they create an offensive or hostile work environment. Examples include displaying symbols that are racially offensive, derogatory remarks about your race and racial slurs.
The EEOC discrimination laws apply to companies that have at least 15 employees. If you experience harassment about your skin color or race at work, you have 180 days from the incident to file a federal complaint. In the meantime, you should document all “jokes” made by others at your place of employment as well as your response to these comments.