Racial tension can be overwhelming, and in the workplace it can be devastating. However, employment law is adamant about creating a fair and equal environment for employees across America.

Particularly, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is designed to provide protection for employees who experience racial harassment and discrimination while on the job. The history of the statute itself reflects Congress’s original intentions for enacting what is today the main source of civil rights in the workplace.

Title VII was enacted in 1964 largely in response to overwhelming racial tension in the civil rights era. This was the age of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other civil rights leaders who risked their lives to fight for better treatment for blacks throughout the county.

President John F. Kennedy initiated the Act and the law was later signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson after Kennedy was assassinated in 1965.

Since then, Title VII has grown to cover discrimination in the workplace even beyond racial discrimination. However, racial discrimination and harassment remain the original inspiration for establishing Title VII as we know it today.

Taming Racial Tension with Title VII

In the workplace, racial harassment may not be as scarce as you think. Many believe that racial issues are a thing of the distant past, but statistics show that racial discrimination is still a major factor in American society and in American workplaces.

The EEOC had often had to address issues of workplace bias based on race and is still representing employees who experience extreme, and sometimes complicated, forms of racial discrimination and harassment.

In fact, one of the nation’s largest settlement agreements involved racial discrimination in a top American bank. Recent EEOC cases also reveal that racial harassment involving the use of derogatory names, racial slurs insults and demeaning behavior is still an issue in the workplace.

Title VII specifically prohibits such behavior mainly through its language condemning discrimination based on race in all terms and conditions of employment. This means that employers may not allow racial discrimination or discrimination harassment to proceed in hiring, firing or any other type of employment practice.

Race Discrimination and Harassment

Employment case law has outlined the exact definition of harassment for purposes of the act. This means that harassment must be more than sporadic and occasional insults and behavior but should be sufficiently severe and pervasive enough to interfere with or prevent an employee from performing job tasks.

Further, an employer is required to act when made aware of racial harassment. Failure to do so in a reasonable way could mean a violation of Title VII.

However, this does not mean taking action that could be deemed retaliatory in a court of law. In fact, Title VII also prohibits acts of retaliation in a discrimination case. This means that an employer should not harass an employee who has filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC, complained of discrimination or is currently involved in discrimination proceedings at court.

Racial Harassment Affects Everyone

African Americans are not the only group that can experience racial harassment. Employment discrimination against Muslims has been on the rise recently, and even Asians and South Asians experience some discriminatory treatment in hiring or due to religious beliefs and practices.

Also racial harassment is not just confined to white vs. black situations. Racial harassment had been found where the employer/supervisor is African American and the employee is also African American. These factors mean that racial discrimination and harassment has few boundaries in terms of its reach in the modern workplace.

Another factor contributing to race issues in the workplace is unconscious bias. The EEOC has specifically investigated the phenomena of unconscious bias due to its persistence in the workplace and its lasting effects on the rights of minority employees. The agency has noted that much of today’s racial harassment and discrimination is a result of this subtle form of discrimination that is often based on preconceived notions about race and culture.

It is also important to note that even third parties to racial harassment are qualified under Title VII to bring a claim to court. Such situations may involve someone in the workplace who is not directly experiencing racial harassment, but has witnessed it in a  way that interferes with his or her ability to perform job tasks.

Top Ways Racial Harassment Can Be Illegal

To recap, here are the top five ways that racial harassment can be illegal:

1. Severe or Pervasive

These are perhaps the most important terms in any racial harassment case. They’re most often used to describe the kind of harassment that is deemed actionable in U.S. courts. If the racial harassment experienced falls below this general standard, courts are less likely to rule that actual harassment has occurred.

2. In Retaliation

It’s important to note that Title VII covers more than just discrimination. It also covers types of behavior that go beyond discrimination, but are still related to it. This includes retaliation. Retaliatory racial harassment can arise when an employer becomes annoyed that an employee has filed EEOC charges of discrimination or even if an employee decides to become involved in discrimination proceedings at court against an employer. Whatever the form it takes, retaliatory harassment is a violation of Title VII.

3. Against Any Race

Employees who are not African American need not think that they are excluded from the protection that Title VII provides. The prohibition against discrimination based on race is available to all races. The idea is that discrimination, including racial harassment, create unfair treatment and inequality in the workplace – two practices the law is designed not to tolerate in American workplaces.

4. Based on Unconscious Racial Bias

The type of discrimination experienced in today’s workplaces are at times different from the type experienced historically. Today’s discrimination and harassment based on race may take on subtler forms that are harder to prove with concrete evidence. It is important for employees to be aware that their rights are still protected even if the type of racial harassment they experience extends from unconscious racial bias.

5. Involving Third Parties

Sometimes, it’s not the person directly experiencing racial harassment that brings a racial harassment claim to court. Sometimes, it’s an employe who has witnessed the harassment and has experienced it as a third party. In these instances, the law provides remedies for those whose indirect experience of racial harassment is so pervasive and severe that it interferes with their ability to perform job tasks.

When Racial Tension at Work Becomes Unbearable

When racial tension at work becomes unbearable, legal remedies are available. Seek out a competent employment law attorney to discuss your options right away.