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What creates a hostile work environment based on race?

Most of us spend time during our workday talking with our co-workers to pass the time or get through the day. Sometimes we develop strong friendships with co-workers, while sometimes there are co-workers we do not get along with.

This is a common part of nearly all Missouri workplaces. However, if a co-worker constantly makes comments or “jokes” that involve your race, how do you know when the comments cross the line and become harassment?

Examples of offensive conduct

The Missouri Human Rights Act prohibits offensive conduct based on someone’s race or color. There are many different things that constitute offensive conduct, including:

  • Making derogatory comments
  • Making racial jokes
  • Using racial or ethnic slurs

Additionally, any unwelcome physical or verbal actions are offensive conduct. This behavior creates a hostile work environment when it is severe or pervasive.

For example, if a co-worker makes one racial joke that you find offensive, but apologizes and never does it again, that is likely not enough to create a hostile work environment.

However, if that co-worker continues to make the joke even after you ask them to stop, and their behavior becomes physically or verbally threatening, that might be harassment.

Your employer’s legal duties

The law requires your employer to take steps to prevent racial harassment and to act when harassment is reported. They can try to prevent harassment by providing discrimination training to all employees and having a clear written anti-harassment policy.

You should tell your employer about any racial harassment you experience as soon as you can. You deserve to work in a place where you feel safe and valued.

Reporting the harassment might be difficult. Perhaps you are hesitant because you do not want to be seen as a troublemaker. However, reporting it early allows your employer to take corrective action.

If your employer does not do anything about the harassment and it continues, there may be legal remedies available to you.