It has just been brought to my attention by one of my directs that another of my people has made racist remarks during a meeting that I was not at. The direct that brought it to my attention was offended and made an excuse to leave the meeting. He wants me to do something about it. I will give the other direct feedback and monitor the situation. Is that all I need to do for now? Is that under reacting? Do I want to bring in HR? I want to handle this thing right. Please help.

jhack's picture

First, have you listened to the Sexual Harassment podcasts that just came out? They are absolutely relevant here....


AManagerTool's picture

Unfortunatly, I need to catch up. I just started my premium content (YEAY for the interview series!). I'll listen to the harrasment casts ASAP! One thing though, it wasn't sexual but ethnic, do they still apply?

jhack's picture

They absolutely apply - it's really about any hostile/inappropriate/offensive behavior. There are some things specific to sexual harassment, but it is very on target for your situation.


TomW's picture
Training Badge

The harassment cast definitely applies since it's about any time two of your directs are involved in potentially explosive behavior. almost any kind of ethnic, religious, sexual orientation-based harassment.

I think M&M really nailed it on that pair of casts.

davefleet's picture

I just did one of those 'write for ten minutes then delete' postings.

The harrassment podcasts will definitely help here. Be careful to identify the parts that might not be applicable, but on the whole the advice fits your situation well.

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

Don't get the cart before the horse. Do you believe the direct who reported the activity? Could this be a mis-communication?

First assess the situation. Then use your assessment to determine your actions.

asteriskrntt1's picture

All good advice above. If this happened at a meeting, there will be multiple witnesses who can confirm/deny what was said and the context it was said in.

As an aside, whatever happened to people dealing with their own problems? Why do you have to do something about it? Why can't this person approach the offender and try and resolve the situation? Kind of like kids do on the playground....


AManagerTool's picture

Thanks everyone for the advice.

Here's what I did:

1. One direct told me about the comments and I definitely believed him. The offender has some rather antiquated ideas about race, religion etc and has said things like this in the past when I was not her supervisor. I told him that I would not tolerate this type of behavior and that I would handle it but told him that he was welcome to go to HR with this at any time. I asked him to keep this between myself, HR and the offender and not discuss it with the rest of the team.

2. Spoke with the offender and gave her feedback per the model about the comments that were made. The direct promptly admitted it and told me that it just slipped out and was something that they didn't think about when they made the comment. She said that it would never happen again and I gave her a stern warning that this behavior is not acceptable by any standard. I told her to apologize to the person offended and reminded her that I would be checking up. I also warned her to not discuss this matter with anyone else except HR, the offended person or myself.

3. I made a choice not to notify HR immediately. I guess that I am hoping that it is resolved at my level.

Since this happened during back to back O3's with both directs (I wrote my original post between O3' I did not have the chance to listen to the cast on harassment. I think I handled it OK BUT I am still wondering if I should go to HR with this per the cast. I guess that it depends on if the offended person feels mollified by the offenders apology right?

jhack's picture

Glad it's worked out...

I would leave the decision about involving HR to the direct who was offended. Make sure that your direct understands the policy (ie, s/he has the right, etc). Sounds like you've done the most important thing: take it seriously and act appropriately.


AManagerTool's picture

I just checked my work e-mail. I received an email from the offender late Friday afternoon after I had left . She basically recanted her apology with a "I can't help it if he is insecure!, I also think he should have brought this to me instead of my supervisor".

This is an example of what Mark calls "GALACTICALLY STUPID!"

TomW's picture
Training Badge

[quote="AManagerTool"]I just checked my work e-mail. I received an email from the offender late Friday afternoon after I had left . She basically recanted her apology with a "I can't help it if he is insecure!, I also think he should have brought this to me instead of my supervisor".

This is an example of what Mark calls "GALACTICALLY STUPID!"[/quote]

I think it's time to
(A) Give more feedback. Unprofessional behavior requires a "I won't do that again" as the answer to "how can you do that differently in the future?"
(B) start documenting instances of this person's comments. HR may need it.

jhack's picture

Galactically stupid, yes. Still a nuclear briefcase...and you're carrying it. In US law, the manager is personally liable.

The "offender" agreed to apologize? If so, she needs to, and if she doesn't, you have a stern feedback session in the works.

Yoru feedback should also make it clear that this is not about whether someone else is too sensitive: "..;when you say ractist/homophobic/sexist things, I think about firing you, I think your judgement is poor and biased...", etc.

As part of your feedback, you might reiterate company and EEOC policy.

You really need to find the time to listen to the harassment casts. They will be VERY helpful here.


James Gutherson's picture

I agree with Tom - start assembling documentation - hopefully it will never be used but if she can't see she has done wrong this could all go south in a big hurry. There are very specific laws against this behavior and it needs to stop immediately.

The Galactically Stupid part is certainly documenting herself in a hole by putting it in an email - a copy in your system, her system, the coporate system...

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

We don't know what the comment is, so it's hard for us to judge exactly. If it was something "galactically stupid" then it needs to be documented and signed and delivered to HR.

Every employee in your workplace has a fundamental right to not be insulted by racist/religion/sexist whatever comments. There is no excuse. There is no "overly sensitive."

I think feedback is great. But it needs to be very stern. Every direct needs to know absolutely that that behavior will not be tolerated. The written documentation should clearly indicate this is an offense that if repeated could result in termination.

Beyond just the amount of exposure you have legally, you owe it to your people to protect their work environment.

TomW's picture
Training Badge

[quote="WillDuke"][b]Every employee in your workplace has a fundamental right to not be insulted[/b] [/quote]

I think that statement, even shortened slightly from Will's, is so important I'd like to repeat it and emphasize it.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

A Manager Tool -

I apologize that this has taken me so long.

Feedback IS appropriate here. But this is a case where delivering easily and quickly is NOT the best way.

"When you say, "....", here's what happens. You commit an offense against workplace laws, and expose yourself and me to legal actions. You look incredibly bigoted and stupid, and you probably completely ruin your ability to have any amount of respect and success when working with many on the team. What you have done is completely unacceptable, and it must stop. What are you going to do about this situation you've created? Be mindful that if your response here isn't sufficient, this is important enough that I'll mandate additional actions." (And I WOULD include a private apology, for which I would provide the podcast and a rehearsal with me.)

The model CAN be used to deliver CRITICALLY IMPORTANT feedback with HUGE consequences. The vast majority of situations don't call for anything but minor adjustments, but this is clearly a rare and important exception.

Again, my regrets on the delay.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

One more thing here: I disagree with the "fundamental right not to be insulted."

"Right" is an exceptionally strong word, and it implies a sense of entitlement that I believe is incorrectly applied to a workplace where merit and performance creates disparities of pay, power, and development.

As well, if one thinks of oneself as having a "right" not to be insulted, then the one who is insulted determines the impact of all conversations. This is a recipe for chaos.

As John Wayne once said, "if you THINK I have insulted you, you are mistaken. If I've insulted you, you'll surely know it."

The indignation industry is already alive and well in organizations. We don't need to elevate goals and aspirations and cultural norms to the status of rights that carry with them causes for action.

Think of it this way: the feedback model makes some people feel insulted.

And finally, this line of thought in no way condones the harassment this thread posits. That's harassment, and while it is insulting, it's not the insult that is actionable, it's the slur.


LouFlorence's picture
Training Badge

OK, I get it. It's the behavior thing again!

We can't see someone get insulted, but we can hear the slur. That's the observable behavior.

I'm slow, but I get there.


stephenbooth_uk's picture

I think that you should go to HR. A HR officer I know once defined to me the role of HR as being "Keeping the employer from being sued" this goes right to the heart of that. HR are very good at documenting things to protect the organisation (and by extension you) in these situations, they can also advise you on the best way forward and any legal or procedural requirements.

If this person has offended one person a that meeting then it's probable that they have offended someone else, who maybe didn't come forward [b]this time[/b]. If this person behaves in a similarly offensive way in the future then, as far as the third party is aware, nothing has been done. They may at that point make a complaint, especially if they have discovered that you told the original complainant (remember, nothing stays secret) that you'll deal with it but not to tell anyone, but rather than talking to you or HR they may go through a formal procedure or take the litigation route. If they do that then the costs to the organisation will go up immensely and, depending on how far it goes, the credibility of the organisation and yourself may be damaged.

As a union shop steward the biggest factor in the grievances I have won and second biggest factor in disciplinaries I have defeated (the biggest being that the person didn't actually do what they were accused of) has been that management either took no action after an informal complaint or couldn't produce documentation to prove that they did take action, if you can't prove it happened then it didn't.


Dani Martin's picture
Licensee Badge

I couldn't disagree more strongly, Stephen. I'll defer to you if this situation happened in the UK. However, for the Americans, I'd say definitely do NOT go to HR.

As you said, HR's purpose is to protect the company. However, this does not necessarily extend to you. HR couldn't give a flip about you in this situation. Why? Because you're not the one who could sue. All their attention will be focused on the person who was insulted and making sure he/she is okay and won't take it any further. HR doesn't care about you, the rest of your team or your objectives.

Taking this to HR will only make things worse and will distract your team. And at the end of the year, you can't tell your boss you didn't achieve your objectives because of this incident.

I'd follow Mark's advice on this -- strongly worded feedback. And I'd make a note of it in my DR's O3 folder: "On September 15th, gave feedback on xyz comment made to Sue on September 14th. Told her this behavior would not be tolerated and to apologize to Sue." Then I'd make a note that the apology had been delivered and accepted. If my DR refused to apologize, then the feedback escalates. And I still wouldn't take it to HR.

Whew... better step off the soapbox. :wink: