Humans are, by nature, curious beings. It’s not uncommon for them to ask questions about how things work or how something came to be.
Individuals often ask others about their ethnic background or race if it’s hard for them to pinpoint. It may seem insensitive, irrelevant or tactless if a stranger or acquaintance asks you such a question. Any instance in which an employer asks you the same may constitute discrimination.
Is there ever a lawful reason for your employer to ask about your race?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) created some guidelines for employers to follow if they plan to bring up race with a prospective or existing employee. Employers should only ask race-related questions for lawful purposes. This means that they may be able to ask for this information to comply with existing federal laws or if there’s an affirmative action policy in place.
How should you respond to an employer’s questions about your race?
You don’t have to disclose your race unless you want to. While disclosing such information may limit your competition if there’s an affirmative action policy in place, your disclosure of such information is generally voluntary and subjective. Most standard forms that request this information allow you to choose from:
- Native American
- Other (Nondisclosed)
You may opt to select other and write in “N/A” for non-applicable if you don’t want to provide such information. If an employer seems insistent on asking for this information, you may also want to inquire about whether such information is necessary to ascertain whether you can perform your job
Any situation in which your employer insists on knowing more about your racial background before extending you a job offer or promoting you, for example, may constitute discrimination. You may want to consult with an attorney to find out if existing laws require your employer to ask for such information or if they’re overstepping their boundaries.