In May, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reinforced its intent to address discrimination, harassment and bias against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). During a webinar on the impact of COVID-19 on Asian American communities, Chair Charlotte Burrows said the EEOC will use “all of the tools in the agency’s tool box” to combat anti-Asian racism and discrimination, which has increased since the outbreak of the pandemic.
A case in point: the agency recently announced it collected $4.8 million in a national origin and race discrimination lawsuit involving a group of Thai farm workers who were subjected to physical violence, constant threats of deportation and arrests and substandard housing.
And on May 20, President Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law. Among the law’s provisions, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will issue clearer guidance for state, city, tribal and law enforcement agencies on how to establish online reporting of hate crimes. In addition, the DOJ will work with the Department of Health and Human Services to raise public awareness of COVID-19 hate crimes that occurred during the pandemic. There will also be an official at the DOJ who will expedite the review of hate crimes reports.
In a statement, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said that “investigating and prosecuting hate crimes is a top priority, deeply rooted in the department’s founding. We will use the new law to enhance the aggressive measures we are taking to combat crime motivated by bigotry and discrimination.”
Organizations that want to take meaningful action to prevent discrimination and harassment and create a culture that values diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) should adopt a holistic approach, with senior management leading the way. One of the DEI building blocks is an ongoing training and communication program to:
Raise awareness of unconscious bias
Unconscious or implicit bias are social stereotypes that everyone has. Positive or negative, in the workplace, unconscious bias can lead to unfair and discriminatory practices in recruiting, hiring, promotions, performance reviews and other aspects of employment.
Recognize and stop microaggressions
These everyday insults, slights and snubs, whether intended or not, create an atmosphere in which marginalized or underrepresented employees feel judged, misunderstood, excluded, disrespected and unsafe.
Address national origin discrimination
The EEOC defines national origin discrimination as treating applicants or employees unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not).
Retaliation is the number one charge filed with the EEOC — accounting for 55.8% of all charges filed in fiscal year 2020. Title VII prohibits retaliating against an employee for filing a good-faith complaint of sexual harassment or discrimination or participating in an investigation. Any negative behaviors or consequences following a complaint can be viewed as retaliatory — from spreading rumors and excluding individuals from professional or personal activities to demotion, transfer or dismissal.
Encourage empathy and allyship
Workplace allies speak up about negative behaviors, including unconscious bias and microaggressions, and foster empathy and understanding by listening to and advocating for marginalized or underrepresented coworkers.
Teach bystander intervention tactics
While each situation is different, teaching employees bystander intervention strategies and techniques creates a sense of collective responsibility that empowers employees to recognize unacceptable behaviors and intervene if it’s safe — during or after an incident.
Promote cultural competency and humility
The concepts of cultural competency and humility focus on understanding and interacting effectively with people with different cultures, as well as recognizing one’s own cultural biases. As recent events show, a lack of cultural competence can lead to xenophobia, bias, discrimination and violence.
In commemorating May as Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the EEOC reinforced its commitment to combating racism, xenophobia, harassment and other forms of discrimination. For HR professionals and their organizations, this is an opportunity to educate and inspire employees to be inclusion champions and create a sense of belonging for all individuals and groups.
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