The Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act prohibits employers from intentional or unintentional discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, color, ancestry, national origin, or place of birth. This applies to all aspects of employment including hiring, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, firing, and any other term or condition of employment.
When personal prejudices, unconscious biases, and cultural stereotypes about racial and ethnic minorities impact our workplaces and the decisions that are made by employers, this can lead to unfair and discriminatory working conditions and diminished opportunities.
Harassment based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, or place of birth
In Vermont, where a high percentage of the workforce is white, people of color and ethnic minorities often experience workplace harassment in the form of microaggressions.
A microaggression is a term defined by Merriam Webster dictionary as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).” For many, experiencing even a single microaggression in the workplace can lead to a sense of exclusion or inequality. When microaggressions frequently occur unchecked and uninterrupted, even if they are unintentional, they can create an unlawful hostile work environment.
Microaggressions may be perceived by the deliverer as an innocent question or comment that didn’t mean to cause harm. However, regardless of intent, the impact of microaggressions can instill a feeling of otherness, or being an outcast, towards the receiver. While microaggressions may appear small in the day-to-day, or in the break room, they are a reflection of larger prejudicial attitudes. In turn, these comments can promote workplace racism, xenophobia (dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries), and a greater allowance for discriminatory behavior.
Examples of racial microaggressions
Here are some examples of racial microaggressions and/or harassment experienced by people of color and ethnic minorities:
- Questions or remarks based on stereotypes about racial groups
- Insensitive comments about slavery, the Holocaust, and other historical atrocities
- The use of accents or language rooted in stereotypes and/or cultural ignorance, often perpetuated in the form of jokes
- The use of racial slurs
- Violations of consent and personal space, such as when a white person touches a person of color’s hair without consent
- Images or conduct that offend, objectify, or belittle certain racial or ethnic groups or people from certain countries
- Assumptions made based on one's appearance, hairstyle, attire, or body size
- Insinuating that someone does not belong in the U.S. due to their place of birth, ancestry, country of origin, or racial identity
Resources on discrimination based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, or place of birth
More information about the laws protecting against discrimination:
Resources for understanding discrimination based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, or place of birth:
- Questions and Answers about Race and Color Discrimination, EEOC
- Employment Rights of Immigrants Under Federal Anti-Discrimination Law, also available en Espanol Derechos de Empleo de Inmigrantes Bajo Las Leyes Federales Contra la Discriminación, EEOC
- What You Should Know about the EEOC and Religious and National Origin Discrimination Involving the Muslim, Sikh, Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian Communities, EEOC
- Questions and Answers for Employees: Workplace Rights of Employees Who Are, or Are Perceived to Be, Muslim or Middle Eastern, EEOC
There are many Vermont-based agencies and organizations working for social and racial equity. These may be a resource to Vermonters seeking support in dealing with workplace racism or xenophobia. See the Vermont Commission on Women’s Resource Page for Racial and Ethnic Minority Issues.
If you believe you may be a victim of workplace harassment or discrimination on the basis of any legally protected category or categories, find more information: