Despite California and federal statutes that are designed to prohibit racial discrimination and racial harassment in the workplace, these types of activities still exist. A fair question is whether racially tinged jokes, epithets and language constitute workplace racial harassment.
Racially tinged jokes, epithets and language directed at you
If you are a person of color and your supervisor or even a co-worker directs racial jokes, slurs, epithets and language directly at you or in your presence in the workplace, that typically can be construed to racial harassment under applicable employment law. The same holds true if you’re not physically in the workplace but at a job-related function or location when this type of language is used.
Racially tinged jokes, epithets and language not directed at you but in your presence
Another scenario involves racial jokes, epithets and language used in your presence but not directed at you. For example, a supervisor may be visiting with one or more of your coworkers and share a racially-tinged joke with them within your earshot. The possibility exists that this type of conduct, particularly if it happens on a recurring basis, may be considered sufficient to constitute a hostile workplace environment.
Racially-tinged jokes, epithets and language conveyed to coworkers but outside of work
However, if a supervisor makes racially-tinged jokes or other statements to your coworkers away from work and outside of your presence, you likely will not be able to pursue a claim for workplace racial harassment or the creation of a hostile work environment.
Pursuing a case based on the premise of workplace racial harassment or the creation of a hostile work environment is complex. Engaging the services of an experienced employment law attorney is recommended.