Racial Discrimination Laws in Hawaii


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The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission maintains a very clear and strict set of rules about what is acceptable and unacceptable in Hawaiian workplaces.  The Hawaii Employment Practices Act protects employees from discrimination on the basis of race, color, and ethnic origin. Additionally, workers in Hawaii have support from the federal laws on racial discrimination, which also prevent employers from making any decisions or basing company policies on racially-motivated ideas.  This means that the state of Hawaii provides its workers with some of the best protection in the United States.  Unfortunately, these laws do not prevent workplace racial discrimination from occurring, but they do give employees a means of acquiring help and seeking justice if they feel that they have been the victims of workplace racial discrimination. 


Hawaii is an at-will employment state, meaning that both employers and employees can enter or terminate an employment situation for any reason, at any time.  While this may sound like an open door for all kinds of discriminatory behavior, in practice there are quite a few supplementary laws that prevent this.  At-will does not override an employee’s civil rights, nor does it give an employer the right to retaliation if an employee has filed a complaint against him or her for racial discrimination.


If you feel you have been the victim of a racially discriminatory incident at your workplace, there are several avenues that are available to you to get help.  The first and most immediate is to try to resolve the issue directly with your employer.  This method may be more successful if the discrimination is indirect - i.e. the employer was not intending to discriminate, but an implemented policy had the unfortunate side effect of discrimination.  Many employers are more than happy to correct this type of issue as soon as it is brought to management's attention.  Likewise, if your company has an HR department, you may want to try to settle the issue with them to see if you can get a resolution that way.


If these two methods fail, or you don't feel comfortable with directly confronting your company, you can file a complaint at the state level with the Hawaiian Civil Rights Commission (HCRC), which will likely refer the case to its mediation program after a short investigation.  Mediation has a greater than 50% success rate, and many cases can be resolved this way without ever going to court.  This can save a lot of money on legal fees and avoid a time-consuming legal process.  If mediation does not work out, the case will usually be returned to the investigator, who will then decide how to proceed with the complaint.


You can also choose to file your complaint at the federal level with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). With the EEOC, however, you have to file your complaint within 180 days of the occurrence of the discriminatory incident, so if this is the way you decide to go, you should try to take action as soon as possible.  As with the HCRC, EEOC complaints also go through an investigator who will decide whether you have the right to sue your company in federal court.