What Are My Rights Against Workplace Racial Discrimination?

One of the worst feelings in the world is going through racial discrimination in the workplace. An associated and similarly awful feeling is wondering whether you have experienced discrimination, given the difficulty of proving racism in a world of, by nature, ambiguous social interactions and prevalent, unspoken but very real prejudice.

This blog will discuss your rights, protected under United States and Michigan law, to be free of workplace racial discrimination. If you are concerned about racial discrimination in your workplace, contact a Marquette employment lawyer immediately. You deserve to be heard and understood, and that’s what we strive to do as we work with you to protect your rights.

What Legal Rights Do I Have Against Racial Discrimination at Work?

Under United States federal and state law, you have a legal right to be free of racial discrimination at work. Some specific actions that, by law, you should not have to deal with include unfair treatment, harassment, illegal questions regarding your medical history, denial of reasonable accommodations for disability or religious reasons, and retaliation. We will now briefly consider what each of these violations looks like.

Unfair Treatment

Your employer can never make substantial job decisions like hiring, firing, and wages (among others) based on categories protected under United States and Michigan law. For our purposes, we are focusing on race and color, but the other protected categories are religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, pregnancy, sexual orientation, disability, age, genetic information, and family history.


Harassment violations happen when someone makes a work environment intimidating, hostile, or offensive based on race or another protected category. Harassment includes actions directly done to a person as well as more indirect forms, such as watching someone of your own race or protected category be harassed. A few actions considered harassment are offensive jokes, slurs, and physical threats and assaults.

Illegal Questions about Your Genetic Information or Medical History

In the United States, it is illegal for your employer to ask if you have a disability, require a medical exam, or require you to answer medical questions when you apply or are offered a job. This means your employer cannot ask about, for example, genetic tests you’ve taken or health disorders your family members have. Your employer is only allowed to ask medical questions or a medical exam if you have requested an accommodation or if your employer is worried about your ability to perform a job safely.

Denial of Reasonable Accommodations for Disability or Religious Reasons

The law protects your right to request an accommodation at your job or workplace. An accommodation is a change in a work environment that allows people with disabilities or people who follow a religion to perform their jobs.

For instance, people with disabilities may request accommodations like specialized equipment or work schedule changes, while people who follow a religion may ask to swap shifts with someone else or for leave from work to observe religious holidays. Note that employers are not obligated to accommodate religious beliefs and practices if it would be an undue hardship for the employer.


It is racial discrimination in the workplace when your employer decides to take negative action against you because you participated in a protected activity. Protected activities can be telling your coworkers about your suspicions of racial discrimination in an attempt to gather evidence. Examples of retaliation are being fired, demoted, or denied a promotion because you engaged in a protected activity.

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