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You should ban all racial slurs at work, but hold supervisors to a higher standard

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

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, management 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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