How to Deal Legally With a Racist Coworker

by Adele Burney

While we all wish that going to work was a pleasant experience, at some point you may have to deal with a less than cheerful coworker. Although the Civil Rights Act passed some time ago, there are still some employees that didn’t get the memo. These same people seem intent on dimming the sunshine streaming into your cubicle. If you find yourself face to face with a racist coworker, there are ways to deal with them that won’t bring you to their level.

Respectful Confrontation

Believe it or not, some people may not know that their actions are being viewed as racist by other employees. This is sometimes the case with employees who insist on telling tasteless jokes, or teasing coworkers using racial stereotypes. For example, the employee who says “you probably enjoyed the picnic, they had lots of watermelon and fried chicken for you people”. If you consistently ignore them or wave it away, you are silently condoning the behavior. Find a moment alone with them and let them know that you find their remarks offensive. They may be embarrassed or admit that they really hadn’t thought of it as racist.

Keep A Log

If the coworker fails to cease and desist after your polite request to stop the behavior, start taking notes. Keep a journal of the dates and times of each incident. Also note if there were other coworkers around to witness the behavior. In the case of racist notes or emails being sent to you, keep each of them. Print out the emails and keep them in a folder along with any notes or paraphernalia that comes from the offender. Don’t forget to take pictures in the case of petty vandalism to your cubicle, office or car.


Read your employee manual to see if it addresses harassment issues and steps that the employee should take. Definitely report the incidents to your immediate supervisor. He may or may not take you to the Human Resources Office to file a formal complaint, each company is different. Give your supervisor some time to talk to the employee. If nothing happens after a week or so, report the incidents to human resources yourself, be sure to give them copies of your documentation of the incidents. The lack of response from both your supervisor and human resources should prompt you to contact the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). The EEOC website has toll free numbers that you can call for help and support.

Get Support

Speaking of support, it is important to surround yourself with supportive people while dealing with a racist coworker. Talk to fellow coworkers who may be experiencing the same thing. There is power and safety in numbers. Check and see if your company offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers confidential services at no charge. They will listen and help you figure out a plan to deal with the wayward coworker. The nice thing is that most EAPs are offered through third party providers so your conversations are confidential. Do not fear reporting a coworkers action to the EEOC. Legally an employee cannot be fired, or retaliated against for filing a report to the EEOC.

About the Author

Adele Burney started her writing career in 2009 when she was a featured writer in "Membership Matters," the magazine for Junior League. She is a finance manager who brings more than 10 years of accounting and finance experience to her online articles. Burney has a degree in organizational communications and a Master of Business Administration from Rollins College.

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