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How to Deal Legally With a Racist Coworker

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An openly racist employee can create a toxic environment in the workplace. That's why coworkers must take action, rather than ignore racist behavior or hope that it just "goes away." You can start by informally asking the offender to stop, but if that doesn't work, be prepared to go to your supervisor or human resources department with documented evidence of the worker's racism.

Confront Respectfully

Some people might not be so much racist as ignorant: They simply don't recognize that their actions are being perceived as racism by their coworkers. An example might be an employee who tells jokes with a racial bent or teases coworkers using racial stereotypes. If you consistently ignore these comments or wave them away, you may be sending the message that they are appropriate or acceptable. Find a moment alone with the coworker to tell him that you find the remarks offensive, and explain why calmly. You may find that the person becomes embarrassed or even upset and admits that he thought he was just "having fun with people" and would not want to be seen as racist.

Keep a Log

If a polite request doesn't stop the offensive behavior, start tracking it. Keep a journal of the dates and times of each incident. Also note whether other coworkers were around to witness the behavior. If you receive racist communications, keep them. Print out the emails and keep them in a folder along with any notes or other items that come from the offender. Take pictures of instances of vandalism to your cubicle, office or car.

Report Behavior

Check your employee manual for policies on workplace harassment and follow the process for reporting it. It might tell you to report racist behavior first to your immediate supervisor, or to the human resources department. If you are to start with your supervisor, give her time to talk to the problem employee. If nothing seems to have been done after a week or so, report the incidents to human resources yourself. When making out a report, provide copies of your documentation of the incidents. If neither your supervisor nor the human resources department provides an adequate response, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws in the workplace. The EEOC website has toll-free numbers you can call for help and support. Legally, an employee cannot be fired or retaliated against for filing a complaint with the EEOC.

Get Support

Surround yourself with supportive people when dealing with racism on the job. Talk to coworkers who may be experiencing the same thing. There is power and safety in numbers. See whether your company offers an employee assistance program that offers confidential services at no charge. Employee assistance counselors will listen and help you figure out a plan to deal with the coworker. Most such programs are offered through third-party providers, so your conversations are confidential.


Adele Burney started her writing career in 2009 when she was a featured writer in "Membership Matters," the magazine for Junior League. She is a finance manager who brings more than 10 years of accounting and finance experience to her online articles. Burney has a degree in organizational communications and a Master of Business Administration from Rollins College.

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