Sometimes, supervisors say stupid things. How you respond may mean the difference between winning or losing a lawsuit based on those comments.
Get him to shut up and chances are not much will come of a lawsuit. Otherwise, you may soon find yourself defending why you allowed a hostile work environment to exist.
Bottom line: If you find out a supervisor said something stupid or even vaguely offensive, have the supervisor apologize and make sure he or she understands the behavior must stop.
Recent case: Hartley is a 58-year-old black Jewish man born in Jamaica. He worked as a security guard. Years ago, Hartley requested the week of Passover off for vacation. That’s when a supervisor allegedly said, “How come you’re black and you observe Passover? Isn’t that only for Jews?” A bad joke followed: “What do you call someone who is black and Jewish? A Bluish.”
Much later, after a series of unrelated work problems, including late vacation paychecks and altered job responsibilities, Hartley sued. He threw in allegations of a hostile work environment based on the supervisor’s comments.
Fortunately for the employer, the court said the comments, which were made several years before the later allegations, did not create a hostile work environment. (White v. Andy Frain Services, No. 12-CV-5868, ED NY, 2014)
Final note: Include sensitivity training in your supervisory training curriculum. Remind supervisors and managers that workers come from a wide range of backgrounds and that stereotypes about religions, ethnicities and national origins are just that—stereotypes. Jews, Christians and Muslims come from many backgrounds. Making a joke at the expense of individuals who don’t fit those stereotypes is, at best, in bad taste. At its worst, it creates potential liability for tolerating a hostile work environment.
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