Racial discrimination exists in the workplace. It can happen between lateral co-workers and between management and subordinates. Whenever it happens it is never justified or pleasant to the victim. There many ways people can be discriminated against in the workplace, and all of them are not obvious. For example, a person can be excluded from lunch invites, after work gatherings, not greeted when past by in the hallway, lunchroom, or restroom. It is also seen in the way people are treated in the workplace. Some are given perks and allowances or special treatment just because of their skin color or ethnicity. Some incidence of racial discrimination can influence people’s economic viability, self-esteem, and cause undue stress and embarrassment. Racial discrimination can happen to anyone; however, most often it directed at minorities, meaning Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, and Hispanics, and when this happens, the situation should be remedied, if possible, by speaking with the appropriate authorities at work or in other cases seeking help through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
What is racial discrimination? It is when someone is treated unfavorably based on their race or personal appearance. Robinson writes, “By discrimination, we mean treating an employee less favorable due to his or her race, color, national origin, sec, age, disability, or religion.” (Robinson 3). The definition even extends to people who may be discriminated against because they are married or merely personally connected with a discriminated group. Racial discrimination, unfortunately, is also a learned behavior. Many times it is seen in parents, grandparents, friends, and other family members and some are not even aware of discriminating against others because it is familiar. They may feel privileged and have no moral obligation toward those who may look different than they do.
Since people spend often over half of their lives at their respective jobs, the onus is on management to help workers understand ethical treatment of others. This is why literature that defines ethical treatment of others should be included in the hiring process of employees. When leadership takes a proactive role in supporting a workplace policy of equality and fairness, this will set an excellent example for employees to follow. This can done using team building exercises and purposely partnering people who look different from one another on team projects. This is when people actually discover that they are more alike than different.
The EEOC exists because racism still exist in the workplace. According to the EEOC website of statistics on discrimination, race related cases make up about thirty-six percent of all cases. Looking at the last three years, in 2014 the number of filings which were 88,778 dropped by almost 11%when compared to 2012, and by almost 5% when compared to 2013. These numbers are inclusive of all EEOC cases. There were 31,073 race related cases filed in 2014, and that is down by 2,439 or almost 7% when compared to 2012 (Charge Statistics). However, these numbers only represent the reported cases through EEOC. There are most likely many unreported incidents that people may feel is not worth the trouble to file. In addition, when an employee works where they are being discriminated against, they do not want to take the risk of losing their jobs.
It can be difficult to prove discrimination in the workplace unless it is blatant and obvious, and require observation and documentation over a period of time. Offermann writes in a 2014 article that today’s racism in the workplace is ambiguous, and because of this some may feel the workplace is fostering an environment of color blindness when in fact it is not (Offermann et al.). Discrimination, especially that which is ambiguous, differs sometimes depending on those involved. Offermann suggest that discouraging discrimination falls first and foremost in the lap of the employer. Also noted in Offermann’s study, is the effect discrimination on employees at large. “In addition to impacting the target of discrimination, recent work suggests that ethnic harassment can negatively impact the occupational health of those who witness or are aware of the harassment of coworkers, making it a concern for all employees” (Offermann 499). The victims of discrimination can be affected in several ways, including reduced job performance to health issues both physically and mentally.
A racial discrimination case was filed against Patterson-UTI Drilling Co and the EEOC. Current and former employees complained that on a national basis Patterson-UTI Drilling Co discriminated against minorities. The minorities listed were Hispanic, Latino, Black, American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander and other minorities. The disparaging treatment took place at Patterson’s Colorado and other facilities. The infractions were listed in the lawsuit as, “(a) hostile work environment based on race, color, and/or national origin; (b) disparate treatment discrimination, including discharge or constructive discharge and other adverse actions; and (c) retaliation” (Race/Color Discrimination).
The case was settled out of court for 12.6 million dollars. The interesting fact here is that the discrimination was companywide. The company fosters an unwritten policy against minorities and its management staff participated. Where was their sense of morality, fairness and ethical behavior? However, as a result of the settlement, or decree as it was officially named, Patterson promised hire a diversity officer to facilitate and ensure the company would follow through on initiatives listed in the agreement.
Currently there are hundreds of cases that the EEOC is reviewing and even more complaints. Legal firms exists whose niche is workplace discrimination cases. Unfortunately, treating people fairly in the workplace cannot be legislated and the idea of a color blind America sounds very palatable and the idea is politically correct. It is certainly idyllic of a twenty-first century society to view America as a color blind society. Since diversity is a hot issue at corporate firms throughout the US, it may appear that companies are color blind because they have embraced others ethnicities in the workplace (Ross). However, outside of the work environment a large percentage of non-minorities have limited interaction with minorities in any significant way. They often do not go to school together, play together, cry together, are not best friends, and do not belong to same social clubs. What is portrayed in the media shapes people’s perception of minorities: the media tends to communicate perceptions which are often grossly slanted. Therefore, non-minorities are not in-touch with how others perceive race and what, if any difficulties they encounter.
However, a color blind society is not really the answer. People should see color, but in a positive way and make it an opportunity to embrace differences. The government is working to help make the workplace a level playing field, but it is not enough. Minorities who are being discriminated against must speak out. This is the only way that things will really change. Unfortunately, this is the challenge. Similar to learned prejudices in homes across America, some minority children are taught to be quiet and not say anything. When jobs are at stake the matter becomes very serious, especially when families are already straining financially to make ends meet. Losing a job which may also include losing medical coverage and other things tied to the workplace makes it very challenging to say anything. When making the initial claim with EEOC the matter is confidential; at this point a person’s job is not in jeopardy. The EEOC can be used as a sounding board and they can advise people of the evidence they need to prove their case. When workers remain silent this can inadvertently promote racial discrimination.
- Charge Statistics. Statistics. Washington: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2014. Web.
- Offermann, Lynn R., et al. “See No Evil: Color Blindness and Perceptions of Subtle Racial
Discrimination in the Workplace.” Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology 2 0.4 (2014): 499-507. Print.Race/Color Discrimination. n.d. Web. 11 Nov 2015.
- Robinson, David. A Legal and Ethical Handbook for Ending Discrimination in the Workplace . New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2003. Print.
- Ross, Howard J. Reinventing Diversity. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2011.