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  • Daniel Rodriguez

Addressing Racial Slurs in the Evolving Workplace

The 2020 Census revealed a significant milestone in the demographic landscape of the United States. The white population experienced stagnation between 2010 and 2020 for the first time in over two centuries. Instead, the overall population growth was driven by other racial and ethnic groups, signifying a notable shift towards a more diverse nation.

As the country embraces its multicultural future, this transformation will undoubtedly have profound implications for the workforce and how businesses navigate diversity in the workplace. However, despite the progress, racism remains a lingering issue, with minority groups often bearing the brunt of discriminatory behavior.

We will delve into the realities of racial discrimination in the workplace, ranging from subtle biases to overt acts of racism. We'll explore the significance of addressing these challenges head-on and highlight the importance of fostering an inclusive work environment. Understanding how to confront such issues can pave the way for a more harmonious and equitable workplace.

workplace empty because of racial slurs in the workplace

Racism Persists in the Modern Workplace

In February of 2022, The Yarbrough, et al. v. Glow Networks, Inc. case resulted in a significant $70 million verdict in favor of 10 employees, nine Black employees. The lawsuit, filed in a Texas federal court in December 2019, highlighted ongoing race discrimination, unequal pay, and a hostile work environment at Glow Networks.

The employees sought compensatory and emotional distress damages and punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. 1981 (Section 1981) without including a claim under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The jury found Glow Networks guilty of unlawful discrimination and retaliation, leading to $7 million awarded in emotional distress damages and punitive damages for the plaintiffs. The verdict is a significant reminder of the continuing impact of employment discrimination and the legal remedies available to combat such practices.

Racism outside of the Workplace fuels Change in the Workplace

Recent events, including the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, brought systemic racism to the forefront of public consciousness. This created an environment where Black employees felt encouraged to share their own experiences of racism at work, shedding light on the deep-rooted inequalities they faced.

Instances of workplace racism go beyond hurtful words; they extend to systemic issues like pay inequality and unequal opportunities for people of color. Many individuals have remained silent for too long, fearing repercussions if they speak out against discrimination. However, the collective voice of the Black Lives Matter movement has empowered marginalized employees to demand change and accountability from their employers.

Corporations Take Steps for Racial Equity

In the wake of the George Floyd protests and the powerful testimonies of Black employees, the corporate world has faced increasing pressure to address racial inequality within their organizations. Acknowledging the need for change, some companies from diverse industries have declared their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Beyond symbolic gestures, these corporations have taken concrete steps to promote workplace racial equity. Initiatives such as diversity training programs, creating inclusive hiring practices, and establishing channels for reporting discrimination have been implemented.

Embracing Diversity in the Workplace

In today's multicultural society, workplaces are becoming increasingly diverse, with individuals from various racial and ethnic backgrounds collaborating and working together. Recognizing and acknowledging this diversity is crucial in fostering a harmonious and inclusive environment. It is essential to avoid perpetuating stereotypes and unintentionally using racial and ethnic slurs that can be hurtful and harmful.

Creating a respectful workplace means being mindful of the language we use and being sensitive to the experiences of our colleagues. By doing so, we can ensure that everyone feels valued and respected for who they are, contributing to a more productive and supportive work environment.

The Impact of Ethnic and Racial Slurs

Racial and ethnic slurs have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences, often causing profound emotional distress to those targeted by such language. They perpetuate harmful stereotypes and contribute to an atmosphere of discrimination and marginalization. People subjected to slurs may experience various adverse effects, including decreased job satisfaction, diminished productivity, and feelings of isolation in their professional environment.

By using slurs, individuals undermine the principles of diversity and inclusion essential for a thriving workplace. Moreover, using offensive language can lead to legal repercussions and damage the company's reputation, affecting its ability to attract diverse talent and retain skilled employees.

Understanding the Laws Against Racial Slurs in the Workplace

Racial slurs have no place in the modern workplace, which the U.S. legal system acknowledges. The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits explicit harassment, including racial slurs, comments, and jokes, if they create an intimidating, abusive, or hostile work environment. However, it's essential to be aware that Title VII applies only to employers with 15 or more employees, and teasing or isolated incidents that do not meet the threshold of harassment may not be covered.

In California, FEHA expands on these rights. Granting protection from discrimination from employers that have five or more employees.

Dealing with Ethnic and Racial Slurs: A Practical Approach

When faced with racial slurs in the workplace, it's natural to feel uncomfortable or angry. To address such situations effectively, it's crucial to approach them with a level-headed and thoughtful mindset. Here are some essential steps to consider:

Don’t Dismiss

Recognizing that a problem exists is the first step in addressing racial slurs. It's essential not to deny or dismiss such incidents, as doing so can perpetuate a harmful environment. Responding calmly and confidently to offenders is vital in preventing escalation and showing that their behavior is unacceptable.

Address the Issue

When confronting individuals who use ethnic or racial slurs, it's important to focus on the inappropriate language itself rather than attacking the person remarking. A respectful approach can create a constructive conversation, potentially leading to greater understanding and change.

Document and Report

Keeping detailed records of any incidents involving racial slurs is crucial, including the date, time, location, involved parties, and potential witnesses. These documented records will serve as essential evidence if formal action needs to be taken, such as filing a complaint with the company's HR department.

Filing a Complaint

Suppose racial harassment persists despite efforts to address it directly. In that case, employees should follow their company's policy for reporting harassment and submit a formal written complaint to their supervisor or human resources. This formal complaint records the situation and ensures that the employer is aware of the issue and legally responsible for addressing it.

Social Media Caution

While speaking out against racial slurs is important, employees should be cautious about engaging in social media protests, especially if it may conflict with company policies on damaging the company's image or brand. Maintaining a separation between personal activism and professional life can help prevent negative consequences.

Knowing Your Rights and Taking Legal Action

Employees should always be aware of their rights regarding racial slurs in the workplace. Regardless of intention, such slurs are unacceptable and should be addressed promptly. In cases where harassment persists despite following proper procedures, seeking legal assistance from organizations like Hall Law Group can help employees build a case to protect their rights and seek justice.


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