Responding to an Employer Asking About Your Race

Responding to an Employer Asking About Your Race

Ethnicity is a taboo subject to many people, but employers may lawfully ask about race in some cases. Depending on how the employer uses this information, the question could be discriminatory. In contrast, questions that request other personal information, such as age and marital status, are generally always illegal. A fundamental rule of employment law is that bosses should make decisions based solely on a person’s merits.

As people, we don’t do that. We incorporate other factors into the judgments we make. If these factors are illegal, the decision causes injury, and the EEOC or another government agency refuses to do anything, a Chicago employment discrimination lawyer can obtain compensation and justice in court. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as lost wages, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Perhaps more importantly, a legal claim makes hidden illegal discrimination a matter of public record.

Kinds of Racial Discrimination

If used incorrectly, racial identification information could lead to intentional or unintentional discrimination. Both kinds of discrimination are illegal.

Intentional discrimination, or disparate treatment discrimination, is treating different people differently. Some examples include:

  • Stereotyping: Regardless of their credentials, some employers believe that nonwhite workers cannot fill supervisory or white-collar positions. Stereotypical “them” and “us” language is also illegally discriminatory.
  • Refusal to Promote: Promotion decisions are discretionary, and discrimination is hard to prove in this area. Whether it is difficult to prove or not, it is still a sign of microaggression and passive racism that can cause just as much substantial damage.
  • Discriminatory Remarks: Racial jokes and ethnic slurs are obviously off-limits. Other language discrimination is more subtle. Usually, if the language is offensive to a reasonable person, it’s discriminatory.

Unintentional discrimination, or disparate impact discrimination, is even more common. A no-beard policy is a good example. Many food service and food processing worksites have such rules, ostensibly for sanitary purposes. But many nonwhite people are prone to razor burns, so they wear beards more often. A no-beard policy disproportionately affects such people.

There’s more. A no-beard policy could also be a pretext for direct employment discrimination, as outlined above.

Legitimate Business Purpose

These legitimate business purposes include external reporting requirements and internal affirmative action plans.

Some government and other contracts have quotas. Firms with a certain number of nonwhite or other employees receive some preferential treatment. Affirmative action is a similar policy that many companies have. In these cases, failure to provide racial identification information could hurt the company or even the individual.

Information collected for these purposes could be used for illegal purposes. Therefore, our Chicago employment discrimination lawyers normally recommend that the racial identification question be on a “tear-away” sheet that no one, other than the people compiling statistical information, will see.

Count on a Dedicated Cook County Attorney

Answering a racial identification question might or might not be a bad idea. For a free consultation with an experienced employment discrimination lawyer in Chicago, contact the Law Office of Mitchell A. Kline. Virtual, home, and after-hours visits are available.