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Make good-faith effort to root out racism

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

There’s only so much you can do to prevent a racially hostile work environment. Fortunately, courts understand those limitations and won’t hold it against you—provided you acted in good faith to stop harassment.

Take, for example, graffiti and other bad acts that are racially charged. As long as you remove the offensive materials and make honest efforts to find and punish the perpetrators, chances are a judge won’t fault your efforts.

Recent case: Willie, who is black, was fired after an altercation with another employee at his job for the city of Minneapolis. He sued, claiming he had been forced to work in a racially hostile environment.

His case came down to how the city had handled a note containing a racial slur that Willie found in his locker. Willie had reported the note, and management interviewed the co-worker Willie suspected had written it. But the other employee never admitted composing the note until much later, when he was under oath during proceedings related to the ensuing lawsuit.

The court dismissed Willie’s case, reasoning that there wasn’t much an employer can do other than investigate a claim and meet with employees to discuss the incident. (Hen­­der­­son v. City of Minneapolis, et al., No. 12-12, DC MN, 2013)

Final note: What should you do if faced with a similar incident? A good first step is to gather all employees for a re­­fresher training course on your anti-harassment policies. Remind everyone that you won’t tolerate any use of offensive words and that anyone caught will be terminated.

Then be proactive about rooting out harassment. Conduct snap inspections in bathrooms and common areas, looking for any apparent problems like racially, sexually or otherwise offensive notes, graffiti and other written materials.

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