Of course, work should be discrimination-free. Employees should be able to get along and never have to endure harassment because of race, ethnicity, national origin or other protected characteristics.
Unfortunately, such a utopia is rare. Some employees inevitably harbor sentiments that simply aren’t socially acceptable.
Occasionally, one of those workers will do something truly stupid: tagging offensive graffiti, posting jokes that aren’t funny or leaving anonymous, bigoted notes.
Whatever form it takes, make sure you respond immediately. Show you mean business about stamping out harassment.
Recent case: A group of employees sued Coca-Cola, alleging that they had endured a racially hostile environment. They cited an example: a racially charged note that an employee had found in the men’s room. No one saw who left the note and it wasn’t signed.
Coca-Cola responded immediately. The first manager to hear the complaints called security.then held a meeting to stress that racially charged activities would not be tolerated. They invited anyone with information to report it, and reminded employees that if the responsible person were found, he or she would be terminated.
Later, HR held a training course on acceptable workplace behavior and expectations. Plus, HR conducted interviews and viewed video footage of the area in an attempt to identify a possible culprit. The note writer was never identified and therefore no one was ever disciplined.
But the court found that Coca-Cola had done all that could reasonably be expected. It removed the note, investigated, tried to identify the culprit and conducted follow-up training sessions designed to impress on employees that the company takes racial harassment seriously. The court refused to penalize the employer for not catching the employee. (Bright, et al., v. Coca-Cola, No. 12-CIV-234, ED NY, 2014)
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Punish bosses who don't report harassment
- Try your best, but don't worry that honest mistakes will cost you a lawsuit
- Make sure employees understand policy and process for reporting sexual harassment
- Take careful notes during all exit interviews