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Workers’ Rights Q&A: Dealing with Discrimination in the Workplace

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed an alarming uptick of xenophobia and racism. Just like when the Muslim, Sikh, Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian communities faced increased discrimination after 9/11, Asian Americans and many immigrant groups are suffering from a wave of a hate crimes and prejudice.

“Over 1,400 discrimination complaints were reported nationwide by Asian Americans between March 19 and April 15,” says Harry Budisidharta, the executive director of the Asian Pacific Development Center in Aurora. “This wave of hate crimes and prejudice is part of a historical pattern where communities of color, immigrants, and refugees are used as political scapegoats, resulting in dire consequences to themselves and their communities. Although not as prevalent as in some other states, Colorado has not been completely spared. We have witnessed a local rise in hate crimes and discrimination as well.”

Discrimination is not only morally wrong; it is also illegal. In this column, we will be answering questions about the rights that all Coloradans have to be free from discrimination and harassment in the workplace, housing, and commercial spaces.

Q: A coworker is calling me derogatory names, using racial slurs, and telling me to go back to China, blaming “my people” for the spread of COVID-19. What are my rights?

Iris Halpern & Ellen Giarratana:

A: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, and the Denver Anti-Discrimination Ordinance, as well as many other local laws, make racial, ethnic, and national origin harassment strictly illegal.

This includes not only anti-Asian harassment, but all other racial, ethnic, or national origin-based harassment. By failing to stop the harassment, your employer is also violating your federally protected contractual rights to work in an environment free from racial and ethnic discrimination. If you are suffering from a co-worker’s or supervisor’s harassment, you should complain to your employer. Try to document your complaints by making them in writing, for example, by sending them in an email. If you complain verbally, you should keep a record of whom you spoke to, the date of the complaint, and what everyone present said. Remember, your employer cannot retaliate against you in any way for reporting harassment to management or to a government agency. If your employer does so, that is a separate violation of your rights.

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