Resource For Asian Americans In The Workplace

By Chris Kolmar
Jul. 11, 2022
Fact Checked
Cite This Webpage Zippia. "Resource For Asian Americans In The Workplace" Jul. 11, 2022,

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that 58% of Asian-Americans have experienced workplace discrimination, which damaged their relationship with their employer.

Furthermore, 55% say businesses have done very little in the way of concrete actions to end systemic racism, and 67% believe businesses have largely ignored the problem of racism against the Asian-American community.

While discrimination against Asian Americans isn’t new, and dates back to as early as WWII, that doesn’t mean recent events haven’t made the situation worse. Unfortunately, the pandemic heightened discrimination in the workplace, as many Asian Americans have unjust discrimination based on the origin of the COVID-19 virus.

The good news is that this article will outline your rights as an Asian-American, provide examples of what workplace discrimination can look like, what you should do if you’re discriminated against, tips to keep in mind when interviewing, and where you can turn to continue learning.

Key Takeaways

  • You’re entitled to fair treatment in the workplace based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • Inquiring about citizenship, harassment, anti-Asian screening, different performance and disciplinary standards, and retaliation are all common forms of workplace discrimination against Asian Americans.

  • If you’ve been discriminated against, you have a right to report the incident or file a complaint with the EEOC.

  • Besides the EEOC, other great resources at your disposal include: SHRM, NCSL, APALA, and the MBDA.

asian americans who experience discrimination

Which Rights Do Asian-Americans Have in the Workplace?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The primary law protecting the rights of Asian-American workers is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits public and private sector employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating based on race, color, and national origin (along with gender and religion) in any term, condition, or privilege of employment. This includes:

  • Recruiting

  • Hiring

  • Promoting

  • Transferring

  • Training

  • Disciplining

  • Discharging

  • Assigning work

  • Measuring performance

  • Providing benefits

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is tasked with enforcing complaints filed under Title VII, the organization resolved 40,197 charges of employment discrimination based on race and national origin in 2014, 1,213 of which were filed by Asian-Americans.

State Laws Against Racial Employment Discrimination

What happens if a company has fewer than 15 employees? Luckily, most states have their own employment discrimination laws that cover smaller employers. For example, Ohio has an employment discrimination law that covers employers with four or more employees.

However, it’s important to emphasize that not all states have laws protecting workers from racial discrimination. For example, Alabama makes it illegal to discriminate against employees based on their age but not their race, whereas racial discrimination only applies to state employers in Georgia.

In both cases, Asian-American workers who experience discrimination would file their complaints on a federal versus state level.

Examples of Asian-American Workplace Discrimination

Unfortunately, instances of Asian-American workplace discrimination are still easy to come by, even if difficult to spot. In fact, the pandemic has actually heightened discriminatory actions against Asian Americans in many places around the country.

Here are a few examples:

Inquiring About Citizenship

Companies cannot ask you if you’re an American citizen during the application, interview, onboarding, or employment processes, or ask other questions regarding citizenship status.

With this said, employers can inquire about the race for affirmative action purposes or comply with other race reporting laws. They can also ask whether or not a prospective employee is authorized to work in the U.S., as long as they don’t reference citizenship.

On-the-Job Harassment

While we often think of workplace harassment in a sex-discrimination context, employment laws also ban harassment based on race or national origin.

Common examples include racist slurs and jokes, derogatory racial comments, or racially offensive cartoons, drawings, symbols, or gestures, whether from your supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a client or customer.

Harassment doesn’t need to be overt, either. Any actions that violate an Asian-American’s dignity or create an offensive environment — such as continually commenting on their appearance or asking racially charged questions — are considered harassment.

Anti-Asian Screening

A more subtle example of discrimination is a policy or practice that has the effect of screening out Asian employees.

A common instance of this can be seen through an “English only” rule on the job, even when speaking English is not truly necessary for the safe and efficient operation of the business.

Performance and Disciplinary Standards

Holding Asian-American employees to different performance standards than those who belong to other racial groups is a form of illegal workplace discrimination. For example, if you require an employee to output more work each day than others solely because they are of Asian heritage, this is a form of discrimination.

It’s a similar situation when it comes to workplace discipline: you can’t reprimand an Asian-American employee more severely than an employee of another race, all things being equal. Nor can you show favor to an employee (such as promoting them) simply because of their Asian-American heritage.

Retaliation for Filing a Complaint

Treating an Asian-American employee differently because they filed a racial discrimination complaint is illegal. This means employers can’t reassign, demote, fire, or take other disciplinary actions once an employee complains to human resources or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

What Should Asian-Americans Do When Experiencing Workplace Discrimination?

You have the right to work in a discrimination-free environment. But if your employer isn’t following the law, here are some actionable steps you can take:

Document Details About the Discrimination

If you’re the victim of workplace discrimination because of your Asian-American heritage, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is not documenting the behavior.

This includes keeping notes regarding dates and times the discrimination took place and the individual(s) involved. You’ll also want to keep electronic and hard copies of emails, text messages, and application forms, all of which can help you prove that discrimination took place.

Report the Discrimination

It’s best to submit your discrimination complaint in writing, whether you report it to your supervisor or the human resources department. Once you’ve done so, ask for proof that it was received, and maintain copies of your complaint along with your other notes and records.

After reporting the discrimination, it’s essential that you continue meeting all the requirements for your position. Otherwise, a bad evaluation from your supervisor could reflect negatively on you and weaken your racial discrimination charge.

Consulting with a lawyer specializing in race-based workplace discrimination can help you determine the strength of your case, if your employer is following the law and whether or not you should escalate the situation and file a lawsuit.

If you both decide that a lawsuit is the best course of action, your legal team will help you collect evidence and identify witnesses. Keep in mind, though, that you might have as little as 180 days from the date the discrimination took place to file a lawsuit.

File a Complaint with the EEOC

Before initiating a lawsuit, your lawyer might recommend filing a charge with the EEOC using their Public Portal. You can also file a charge in-person at an EEOC office, at a state or local Fair Employment Practice Agency, or by mail.

If you go the snail-mail route, make sure you include important details like your address and contact information (as well as that of your employer), a short description of the discriminatory actions, when the actions took place, and your signature.

Abide by any Investigation Requirements

Whether you filed a report with the EEOC or initiated a lawsuit, you must cooperate fully and follow any requirements that arise as part of the investigation.

For example, you’ll want to hand over your documentation if asked, as doing otherwise will only harm your chances of a favorable resolution.

Tips for Avoiding Workplace Discrimination Against Asian-Americans

  1. Maintain a Professional Atmosphere

    To prevent racial discrimination in the workplace, it’s generally a good idea to keep things professional.

    Start by reading through your company’s employee handbook (more next) and acting according to the guidelines outlined therein, such as avoiding race-based or culturally offensive humor or pranks.

    When you have the opportunity, attend training and actively engage in the learning process. Also, proactively report any discrimination to your manager, supervisor, or Human Resources department.

  2. Document Your Anti-Discrimination Policies and Processes

    Experts recommend that all businesses should have an anti-discrimination policy in place, and ensure managers are trained properly so they can enforce it consistently.

    You’ll also want to ensure that these policies and procedures are clearly outlined in an employee handbook, which should be readily available to everyone in the company. This includes:

    • A general non-discrimination policy — Prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, disability, age, or genetic information, and should include provisions for reasonable accommodation and procedures for reporting discriminatory behavior.

    • Harassment policy — Includes a statement prohibiting harassment, reporting procedures, and a confidentiality statement.

    • Resolution process — This needs to outline who employees should file their discrimination complaints with, what happens once you file the report, and how to proceed once an investigation is complete.

    In this regard, it’s a good idea for all employees to complete an employee handbook acknowledgment form, which demonstrates that they’ve received and read it.

  3. Provide Training to All Employees

    Effective training should teach employees about different forms of workplace discrimination, how and when it can occur, what happens if someone violates workplace anti-discrimination laws, how employees and managers can prevent it from occurring, and the company’s related policies and procedures.

What Does an Asian-American-Friendly Workplace Look Like?

According to Pew Research, by 2065, the U.S. will not have any single racial or ethnic majority. This could be great for companies since diverse workforces give employers access to a greater range of talent and help them provide better insight into the needs and motivations of their customers.

To learn how diverse your current or prospective employer is, one of the first stops should be their website. Do you see pictures of a multicultural workforce that includes Asian-Americans, or is it more homogenous?

Do they provide charitable donations, outreach programs, or support services (e.g., internships, scholarships, etc.) to minority groups, whether employment-related or otherwise?

You can also read online employee reviews to learn if an employer conducts diversity training and more about their formal discrimination policies, including how they handle complaints.

Interview Tips for Asian-American Workers

For obvious reasons, overt comments or questions about the employee’s race or where they are from are a big red flag. This is one of the clearest indicators than an employee is being discriminated against.

In this regard, remember that you don’t have to answer illegal interview questions like:

  • What is your nationality? Where are you from?

  • Can you prove you’re a citizen, have a visa, or hold alien registration?

  • Can you speak, read, and write English?

If presented with these types of questions, you can sidestep or push back by asking how it relates to the job. Or, you can keep it simple by explaining that you’re legally eligible to work in the U.S. and leave it there.

Also, remember that interviews aren’t a one-way street. It’s up to you to remain engaged and ask your own questions when the time is appropriate.

In this regard, it’s wise to research the company in advance. You can always type the company’s name followed by “reviews” into your favorite search engine. However, sites like can provide a one-stop-shop for reading employee feedback and learning about salary details.

Asian-American Workplace Resources

Fighting for Justice

Discrimination against Asian Americans is an unfortunate reality of some workspaces, just as ageism, sexism, and other horrible “-isms” are as well. Fortunately, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the laws of many states guarantee that you are entitled to equal treatment in the workplace.

Overall, the best thing you can do when you experience discrimination in the workplace is to refuse to ignore it. When you call out inappropriate behavior and use the protections provided to you to seek justice, not only will anti-Asian discrimination against you decline, but it will also lead to a gradual decline of anti-Asian sentiments across the country.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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