Today marks the federal holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  According to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Dr. King’s nonviolent movement in the late 1950’s and ‘60s achieved legal equality for African-Americans in the United States, and his actions contributed to the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race or color (as well as religion, national origin, or sex) when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.


Even though the Civil Rights Act is almost 50 years old, race and color discrimination continues to exist in the workplace. In fact, racial discrimination is one of the most frequently filed claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), second only to retaliation charges in FY 2011.

Best Practices for Employers

MLK Day is a good time for employers to remind themselves of their obligations to prevent race and color discrimination in the workplace. As part of its E-RACE Initiative, the EEOC offers a list of Best Practices to help employers do just that, including:

  • Training human resource managers and all employees on equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws and implementing a strong EEO policy that is embraced at the top levels of the organization. 
  • Promoting an inclusive culture in the workplace by fostering an environment of professionalism and respect for personal differences.
  • Recruiting, hiring, and promoting with EEO principles in mind, byPreventing race and color discrimination in the workplace implementing practices designed to widen and diversify the pool of candidates considered for employment openings, including openings in upper level management.
  • Monitoring for EEO compliance by conducting self-analyses to determine whether current employment practices disadvantage people of color, treat them differently, or leave uncorrected the effects of historical discrimination in the company.
  • Ensuring selection criteria do not disproportionately exclude certain racial groups unless the criteria are valid predictors of successful job performance and meet the employer’s business needs. 
  • Monitoring compensation practices and performance appraisal systems for patterns of potential discrimination, and making sure performance appraisals are based on employees’ actual job performance.

Preventing Racial Harassment in the Workplace

The Best Practices also include adopting a strong anti-harassment policy. Racial harassment is unwelcome conduct that unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Examples of harassing conduct include offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. An employer may be held liable for the harassing conduct of supervisors, coworkers, or non-employees (such as customers or business associates) over whom the employer has control.


According to the EEOC, the most important step for an employer in preventing harassment is clearly communicating to employees that harassment based on race will not be tolerated and that employees who violate the prohibition against harassment will be disciplined. Other important steps include adopting effective and clearly communicated policies and procedures for addressing complaints of racial harassment, and training managers on how to identify and respond effectively to harassment.


For More Information

The EEOC offers a number of guidance documents for preventing workplace race and color discrimination, including the Compliance Manual Section on Race and Color Discrimination and Questions & Answers About Race and Color Discrimination in Employment. You can also read our section on Discrimination for important information on unequal treatment on the basis of race, color and other prohibited factors.


And don’t miss our FREE "Must-Do" HR Checklist for key steps and requirements necessary to keep your company HR compliant!


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Topics: Human Resources, Recruitment and Hiring, Discrimination

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