Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act bans employment discrimination based on race, and several states have adopted additional laws banning race-based discrimination. Explicit policies banning certain races and the use of racist language at work are obvious examples of race-based discrimination. But contemporary race discrimination is often more subtle, and employers at times implement policies and practices that inadvertently contribute to discrimination.

Hiring and Recruiting

Employers must not discriminate in hiring and recruitment on the basis of race, and must also not institute policies that lead to disproportionate exclusion of minority groups. The latter requirement sometimes lands employers in trouble. For example, a company that has a list of approved colleges from which it hires, but does not list a nearby historically black college, could be engaged in discrimination. Employers that only hire based on recommendations can also end up inadvertently discriminating, because people are typically friends with people of the same race. Courts have a practice of examining the effect of a particular policy, so it's important to examine the effects of the policies you have. If you have no minority employees or no minority employees in a position of power, you may be discriminating. Employers around the country have begun minority outreach programs to ensure equality.


Race is not an actual biological category, according to the "American Anthropology Association." Consequently, race assessments are based upon appearance, and employers who have dress codes or requirements for employee appearance can get into trouble. Policies that prevent people from having traits associated with particular races -- such as banning people with kinky hair or requiring that employees' skin complements a uniform -- can be forms of racial discrimination. Policies that require extra grooming by members of particular racial groups can also be discriminatory. African Americans commonly have hair that becomes bushy if it's not straightened; requiring straight hair or banning bushy hair can be discrimination.

Racial Harassment

Any policy or practice that harasses or victimizes member of a certain race is illegal. While the use of racial slurs is an obvious example, other forms of harassment can be more subtle. Hanging a confederate flag near a black employee's office could be one such example. If employees make racist remarks and an employer takes no action, this can create a hostile work environment, which is also illegal. Employers should have specific policies for addressing racist behavior, as well as easy ways to report the behavior that do not lead to retaliation.

Subjective Decisions

Employment decisions can be subjective. Managers might promote an employee because they like the employee's attitude or give an employee a particular job because they know it will help the employee's career. But these subjective decisions can, over time, lead to a pattern of racial discrimination. A manager might only become friends with white employees or tend to see white employees as more similar to herself. Consequently, it's safest to have specific policies for hiring, promotion and job duties rather than relying on subjective assessments. When managers have too much discretion, a pattern of discrimination can emerge.