Racial Harassment

Racial Harassment is covered by both the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993.

If a person can’t resolve the problem with their employer they have a choice as to which way they may go to take the matter further (they can’t do both).

If the employee wants to raise a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act 2000, they have 90 days to raise it. 

If they want to complain under the Human Rights Act 1993, they have 12 months after the incident to make their complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

If you need support in the workplace because you are being racially harassed then contact us without delay. We will arrange an employment advocate to talk you through your options.

An employee is considered to be racially harassed if their employer (or a representative of their employer)

Uses language (written or spoken) or visual material, or physical behaviour that directly or indirectly:

  • Expresses hostility against, or brings the employee into contempt or ridicule, because of their race, colour, ethnicity or national origins.

  • Is hurtful or offensive to the employee (even if they don’t let the employer or the employer’s representative know this).

  • Is so significant or repeated that it has a negative effect on their employment, and has a detrimental effect on the employee’s employment, job performance or job satisfaction.

The person who is harassing the employee doesn’t have to be intending to be offensive for the behaviour to be racial harassment, it depends on how the person the behaviour has impacted may be affected.

Examples of racial harassment:

  • Making an offensive remark about a person’s race.

  • Imitating or making fun of the way a person speaks.

  • Making jokes about a person’s race.

  • Referring to someone using a racist name or term.

  • Deliberately mispronouncing or mocking a person’s name.


Racial harassment by customers or clients of the employee’s employer

This type of harassment is also covered by the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993. 

If a customer or client of the employer subjects an employee to such behaviour, then the employee should complain to their employer in writing. 

The employer must investigate the claim. If they decide that the behaviour has happened, they must then take relevant steps that are practicable to prevent it happening again. 

If the harassment continues to happen, and the employer hasn’t taken the practicable steps then:


  • The employer will be considered in breach of the Human Rights Act 1993 and the employee may complain to the Human Rights Commission, or

  • The employee may raise a personal grievance.