When it comes to the use of racial or other patently offensive slurs, it makes a difference who does the talking and how often. Courts don’t tolerate slurs when a supervisor is responsible, but cut employers more slack when it’s a co-worker speaking.
Presumably,employees are trained better and can be held to a higher standard.
Recent case: Veronica, who is black, sued her employer after a co-worker directed a racial slur toward Veronica’s husband. Veronica wasn’t present at the time.
She argued that even a one-time use of “n****r” was enough to establish that a work environment was racially hostile.
To support her case, she cited an earlier New York federal court case in which a supervisor directed the slur toward a subordinate four times and accompanied the tirades with physical threats.
The court said the two situations were different. A one-time use by a co-worker didn’t merit instant liability, while threats and slurs from a supervisor did. (Albert-Roberts v. GGG Construction, No. 12-3755, 2nd Cir., 2013)
Final note: Make sure all supervisors receive training on racial harassment prevention—especially those who may be moving into management for the first time. Tie performance to compliance. Warn supervisors that even one incident is grounds for discharge.
Discipline co-workers harshly enough that they realize a repeat performance means termination.
You must aim to prevent supervisor harassment altogether, while stopping it quickly is sufficient after a co-worker incident.
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