Racial Discrimination

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Dec 22, 2023

Racial discrimination can have a negative impact on your workplace. It can foster resentment between employees, which can lead to an unhappy and toxic workforce.

Many employers have implemented safeguards to prevent racial discrimination in the workplace. However it sometimes remains a challenge for employers to address and eliminate it completely.

In this guide, we’ll explain what racial discrimination is, examples of it in the workplace, and how to prevent it.

What is Racial Discrimination?

Racial discrimination can be best described as any action, intentional or not, that singles out an individual or a group based on their race. This can cause them to be treated differently or unfairly.

Racial discrimination in the workplace is prohibited under human rights legislation and may be a violation of health & safety legislation.

Workplace race discrimination also includes being treated differently based on:

  • Colour
  • Ancestry
  • Place of origin
  • Ethnic origin
  • Creed
  • Citizenship

It is important that you are aware of the potential issues of racial discrimination in your workplace and address it immediately.

Common Examples of Racial Discrimination

Racial discrimination may often be subtle and difficult to identify. Other times racial discrimination examples may be easy to identify. Examples of this may be:

  • Racially motivated jokes about an individual’s race or ethnic origin.
  • Excluding certain individuals from events or work gatherings because of their race.
  • Questioning and commenting on an individual’s ethnic origin or ancestry.

The Law Regarding Racial Discrimination

Employees are protected from racial discrimination in Canada under human rights legislation.

Each province has their own established human rights legislation. For example, human rights protections for provincially regulated employees in Ontario are provided under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Other provinces include:

  • Human Rights Code of British Columbia.
  • Alberta Human Rights Act.
  • The Human Rights Code of Manitoba.
  • The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.
  • New Brunswick Human Rights Act.
  • Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.
  • Newfoundland & Labrador Human Rights Act.

The Canadian Human Rights Act provides human rights protection from discrimination for federally regulated employees. Some examples of federally regulated workplaces are port services (i.e. ferries and marines), interprovincial road transportation, and telecommunication companies.

Employers may also be responsible under health & safety legislation for failing to investigate an employee who has been harassed because of their race. You have a duty to create and maintain a safe work environment and you may be liable if an employee is experiencing racial discrimination.

Examples of Racial Discrimination in the Workplace

Racial discrimination at work can appear in different ways. Here are a few common forms of racial discrimination in the workplace.

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination is best described as obvious or overt discriminatory behaviour. This type of discrimination is often based on negative attitudes, stereotypes, and bias about people of certain backgrounds.

An example of direct race discrimination in the workplace would be an employer choosing one employee over another for a promotion, based solely on race.

Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination often occurs when a company rule or policy, has a negative effect on a particular person or group. This is also known as unintentional discrimination or adverse effect discrimination.

An example of indirect race discrimination in the workplace is stating in a job description that individuals will only be considered for a position if their first language is English. This applies to everyone equally, but indirectly discriminates against those whose first language is not English.

Racial Harassment

Racial harassment is when an employee is threatened or treated unfairly because of their perceived race or ethnic background. Racial harassment in the workplace can include:

  • Making racial slurs or “jokes.”
  • Making fun of or insulting an employee because of their racial identity.
  • Calling an employee names because of their race, colour, citizenship, place of origin, ancestry, ethnic background, or creed.

Racial Discrimination in Job Interviews

Employers must be sure that they do not discriminate during job interviews or the hiring process.

During the hiring process, employers must not ask candidates about their race, ethnic origin, or colour. Additionally, employers must refrain from the following actions during the hiring process:

  • Using exclusionary language in job descriptions such as “English-speaking candidates.”
  • Filtering candidates and non-candidates based on their race or ethnic background.
  • Probing candidate’s personal background such as cultural traditions or what languages they speak.

Impact of Racial Discrimination in the Workplace

Racial discrimination in the workplace can negatively impact employees and the overall workplace culture. This can include:

  • Impacting an employee’s physical and mental health.
  • Creating a poisoned work environment.
  • Decreasing employee productivity and disrupting the overall operations of the business.
  • Reducing employee retention and increasing employee turnover.

If an employee quits because they believe they were racially discriminated against in the workplace, they may file a human rights complaint against you.

How to Prevent Racial Discrimination

You have a responsibility to create a healthy and inclusive workplace, free from discrimination. You may be in violation of human rights legislation, whether directly or indirectly, if you authorize, condone, or adopt discriminatory behaviour. You may also be held liable to employees, supervisors, or management if you are aware of discriminatory behaviour.

To help prevent racial discrimination in your workplace, you should implement the following strategies to address human rights issues about racial discrimination.

Organizational Commitment

Employers should set out a mission statement committing to a healthy, equal, and inclusive environment, free of discrimination and harassment.

Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy

Employers must establish a workplace violence and harassment policy that details the employer’s commitment to a healthy, equal, and inclusive environment. It should include:

  • A list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in accordance with human rights legislation.
  • A definition of key terms such as “race” and “discrimination.”
  • A description/examples of unacceptable behaviour.
  • The process of how internal complaints will be handled and investigated.
  • The disciplinary measures that will be applied if a complaint of harassment or discrimination is proven.
  • The remedies that will be available if the complaint of harassment or discrimination is proven.

Employers must make this policy available to all new and existing employees, in addition to:

  • Training management on how to recognize and prevent racial discrimination and harassment.
  • Posting information on bulletin boards around the workplace.
  • Sending periodic emails about anti-harassment and anti-discrimination measures and initiatives.
  • Continuity in education to promote an inclusive work environment.

Have a Plan to Handle Complaints

If in the event an employee makes a complaint about racial harassment or discrimination, ensure that you have a plan to handle complaints, including any investigation and disciplinary actions, and that you follow through.

You must also inform the employee of the investigation and ensure that the investigation is confidential.

Get Advice on Racial Discrimination with BrightHR

Effective policies and practices can help you eliminate racial discrimination in the workplace, resulting in an inclusive and positive workplace culture for all.

If you need assistance with addressing racial discrimination in the workplace or guidance on implementing a workplace violence and harassment policy, our BrightAdvice service allows you to receive quality advice on any employment issues you may have.

Contact us on 18882204924 or book a demo today.

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