Some workplace behavior is so outrageous that employers must take immediate action. While a complete and thorough investigation is ideal, don’t be afraid to act fast when necessary.
Recent case: Zachary, who is white, apparently thought it was a good idea for him—along with another white co-worker and a Native American co-worker—to don a white sheet and Ku Klux Klan-style pointed white hat and confront a black co-worker. Also present in the workplace was a noose and a stuffed toy monkey.
The black co-worker immediately reported the incident, though he didn’t file a formal complaint. He had, however, snapped a cellphone picture, which clearly showed the identity of the “klansmen.”
The employer immediately investigated, removed the noose and monkey and decided to fire Zachary and the other participants.
Zachary and his friends sued, alleging that the black co-worker had really been a willing participant, called white co-workers by names like “cracker” and generally also created a racially charged environment. They claimed they had suffered reverse discrimination and that the investigation should have been more thorough.
The court tossed out their claim, noting that dressing like KKK members was far worse than anything they alleged the black co-worker had done. The investigation, though not perfect, was good enough. (Barker, et al., v. Boeing Company, No. 12-6684, ED PA, 2014)
Final note: You should have a quick response team in place for what are essentially HR emergencies. Make sure that any racially charged graffiti, objects like a noose or stereotypical things like stuffed monkeys are removed promptly. It’s just not something that can wait. In fact, you should routinely make sure that the factory floor, locker rooms and other accessible places are free of anything offensive to anyone.
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