2020 has brought with it, among other things, an increased focus on racial discrimination. Navigating conversations about this topic can be challenging for many businesses, but these conversations are necessary to maintain compliance with the law and address current and historical events. Here are three important reasons to address racial discrimination in your businesses now:

1. Educating your team on key federal laws and the penalties for non-compliance is a great way to reduce the likelihood of legal compliance issues in the future.

Treating someone unfavorably because that person is of a certain race or has certain characteristics associated with race such as a particular hair texture, skin color/complexion, or certain facial features, is outlawed by federal, state, and sometimes even city or municipal laws. The same prohibition on mistreatment applies to discrimination against someone who is associated with or married to a person of a certain color or race. The law forbids discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, work assignments, promotions, layoffs, and more. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) notes here, discrimination can occur even when the victim and person who inflicted the discrimination are the same race or color. Discrimination can be both overt and subtle, as explained here.

In 2019 alone, the EEOC received over 33,937 complaints of race-based discrimination and 2,698 alleging color discrimination. EEOC discrimination suits often garner settlements upwards of $100k and both ongoing litigations and settlements are posted on the agency’s website here.

2. Anti-discrimination trainings and policies can be simple. Implementation can lead to an improved work environment with more ethical and legally compliant business practices.

Even small businesses should hold regular non-discrimination trainings for employees. Several state and federal agencies provide sample trainings, tips and other resources online that your business can use for free. Importantly, an understanding of racial discrimination and trainings help prevent illegal practices in the workplace. If employees are made aware of unacceptable discriminatory conduct, they are less likely to engage in this type of conduct in a work setting. Businesses should also consider speaking to suppliers and business partners about their non-discrimination policies to learn about their values and ensure they are aligned with yours.

3. These conversations are timely. Failure to address the topic of racism affirmatively may result in negative and costly public relations for your business which could impair employee and customer confidence.

While our nation is no stranger to racial injustice, the conversations around this topic have been reinvigorated by current events. With the prevalence of social media and “cancel culture”, many companies that have failed to take a stand on the issue of racism and/or failed to address the topic appropriately have been subjected to negative media attention and disappointment from employees and customers.

Now is a critical time to reassess your company’s policies and procedures around racial discrimination, with a focus on conscious and unconscious biases and microaggressions. If your company does not have strong anti-discrimination policies and procedures, JVC recommends seeking the advice of an attorney to draft the necessary language and procedure plan for compliance with federal, state and local laws. Members will soon be able to connect with law firms on our Law Firm Finder for advice on drafting anti-discrimination policies, procedures and trainings. In addition to consulting an attorney, you should also consider engaging an outside consultant who specializes in the topic of anti-racism for assistance with anti-discrimination policies, procedures and trainings for your employees. Stay tuned for forthcoming JVC webinars and resources on this topic.

Want more information on racial discrimination in the workplace?
JVC’s members can access our recorded webinar: Building a Culture of Ethical Inclusion with Professor Veronica Root Martinez, Esq. here.