If, like many employers, you are trying to create a civil environment for all employees, you may be cracking down hard on those who say offensive things.
The reason is obvious: Isolated comments may not create a hostile work environment, but they can mushroom into a bigger problem. That’s especially true if you don’t discipline those who offend.
What to do: Don’t wait until you have a full-blown hostile environment on your hands. You can terminate the offender before harm is done.
Recent case: Jeffrey Lewis, who is white, worked as a transit officer and had a crew of black officers working for him. One day at roll call, Lewis mused to the assembled officers that perhaps he should have brought watermelon to the meeting.
Several officers complained to , and Lewis was fired for making offensive statements. He sued, arguing that he hadn’t meant to offend and hadn’t created a hostile environment.
The court tossed out Lewis’ case, concluding that his intent and the effect didn’t matter—his employer had the right to set its own standards for workplace conduct. (Lewis v. MARTA, No. 08-15885, 11th Cir., 2009)
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