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How Do I Deal With a Racist Boss?

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Off-color jokes might be common in some workplaces, but when you're face to face with a boss who makes a racist comment, it quickly puts you in a difficult situation. You don't want to agree with the comment, but you also don't want to appear insubordinate, especially when your co-workers are present. The key to dealing with a racist boss is to follow the proper complaint process.


If your boss makes a racist comment in passing but doesn't typically use language that offends you, try not to overact. When it's an isolated incident, albeit an unprofessional one, brushing it off may be the simplest approach. Employees often vent about their boss to each other, but doing so can just foster more negativity, warns Ohio State University anger expert Brad Bushman in a CNN article. Bushman recommends calming techniques, such as counting to 10 or doing something enjoyable.

Speaking to the Boss

Speak directly to your boss if you believe that you can improve the situation. On her website, career coach Marie McIntyre reports that many bosses would rather hear a complaint directly from an employee, rather than hearing about it when the employee makes a report to human resources. Author Shaun Belding, on the website, recommends speaking with your boss in a non-confrontational manner and beginning the conversation with a positive. For example, you could point out that you find many of the boss' jokes funny, but feel uncomfortable about racist jokes.

Filing a Complaint

Racist comments are unacceptable in all workplaces, and as an employee, you have a right to file a complaint. The key to filing a successful complaint is to document all of the instances in question, recommends therapist Brandon Smith on his website. If the boss has made repeated racist remarks, note the date and nature of each remark and, ideally, who was present. Ask to meet in private with an human resources representative and explain the situation.


Racist comments are unacceptable at work, and harassment based on race is illegal. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans harassment, and some states also have legislation that makes harassment illegal. For example, the California Fair Employment & Housing Act can hold employers legally responsible for allowing a hostile work environment. If your boss treats you differently because of your race or you feel you haven't received raises or promotions because of racism, take action. Approach the state agency that handles harassment complaints, especially if you feel your company's HR department hasn't fairly dealt with the situation. Another option is to contact a law firm to file a harassment lawsuit.