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What can I do about an employee who often cries 'racism'?

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in The HR Specialist Forum

We have an African-American employee who has repeatedly complained that supervisors and co-workers single her out for poor treatment because of her race. This has ranged from the very serious (that she received a poor review because she is black) to the trivial (that someone told a joke about Barack Obama to upset her).

On every occasion, HR has investigated her complaints. We’ve never found any evidence of discrimination or harassment, which infuriates her even more. Eventually, she calms down, but five or six months later she’s back with another complaint. She’s otherwise a good employee. Any ideas on how to handle her?—Jeanne

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Melody June 15, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Are there other employees of color or African-Americans employees in the office or is she the only one?

What is the HR investigation process? How objective are you being as an employer?

How will this employees experience impact other employees of color current and future?


JWG June 9, 2009 at 4:10 pm

In addition to prior postings (all to which I agree), I would consider seeking feedback from a trusted, yet, external source (if you have not already done so). And yes, although we consider ourselves objective professionals (HR), what I have observed is that although all good and equal intentions are meant, some of what seems like “an overreaction” could be “valid”.

This gesture will also demonstrate to the length for which the company has gone since there are repeat concerns brought to HR’s attention.


John May 6, 2009 at 11:45 am

Get here complaints in writing. Assure the complaints indicate FACTS, DATES, Times, and witnesses. It is not uncommon for such associates to “fill the bucket” ie; keep complaining in a desire to prove the issue based on the volume / quantity of complaints. Copious notes of investigation, but without very detailed complaint provided by complaintant you’ll never have proof of covering all the bases and conducting a full investigation


Joyce G. May 6, 2009 at 9:43 am

I would also recommend a thorough harassment training be conducted with all employees, and make up a couple of similar scenarios to demonstrate more what is and what is not harassment.


Wanda M. May 5, 2009 at 4:35 pm

I agree with John A. that thorough documentation is required. However, that same thorough documentation should occur with any employee concern. To counter a claim that the complainant has been singled out, all employee concerns should be processed in the same manner.


John A. May 5, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Unfortunately, it appears that the employee has developed a “victim mentality.” This root of this mindset is trust issues, and they’re not unwarranted. Try to understand that this is a normal reaction from a member of a suspect class that has traditionally been on the receiving end of discrimination and oppression, both overt and subtle. Some minority employees are better than others at filtering out “everyday” personality clashes and actual discriminatory behavior than others.

As I see it, since she is an otherwise productive and valuable employee and it seems by your tone that you wish to keep her on, your only option is meticulous recordkeeping and investigating all claims of harassment or discrimination thoroughly. You can be sure that if you ever have cause to fire this employee, you will find yourself the Defendant in an EEOC action. The outcome will most certainly be favorable to your organization if copious notes are kept.


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