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A Good Offense is the Best Defense: Stopping Racial Discrimination and Harassment

Posted by Kelly Painter

racial discrimination harassment

More than discussions about healthcare and foreign policy, the 2016 presidential race has also brought up the issue of racism. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has made several statements against Muslims and Mexicans that are cause for deep concern. When such sentiments extend into the workplace it can lead to a hostile environment, discrimination, and even harassment. HR departments must be prepared to manage such situations and remind employees that these behaviors are not tolerated in the workplace.

Left unchecked, racism in the workplace can turn into acts of discrimination or outright harassment. It is the HR department’s responsibility to make sure that this doesn’t happen. A good offense is the best defense, so it’s better to be proactive in preventing racial discrimination and harassment rather than reacting after the complaints start rolling in.

Here are some ways that HR can help prevent racial discrimination and harassment from rearing its ugly head in the workplace.

    • Establish a zero-tolerance policy.
      Every workplace must abide by the federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, these laws don’t protect every employee in every situation.
      To make sure your company is in the clear, it’s a good idea to establish a zero-tolerance policy, if you don’t already have one. Circulate it to all of your employees regularly (maybe every year) and have them sign a form acknowledging receipt. This way you, as an employer, are making it clear to your entire workforce that racial discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated and can be grounds for termination.
    • Open a safe dialogue.
      People usually have questions, especially when it comes to sensitive issues and difficult situations. Let employees know they can bring up any questions or concerns to the HR department. Giving them the opportunity to voice their concerns can help prevent certain problems from arising in the first place—or worsening.
      Raise awareness about racial discrimination and harassment. Consider holding educational workshops that go over EEOC laws and your company’s own policies. You can discuss different examples of racial discrimination and harassment, or even play out specific scenarios. Emphasize that employees are entitled to their opinions but encourage them to use good judgment when voicing those opinions.
    • Look beyond the workplace.
      Instances of racial discrimination and harassment can extend beyond your company’s walls. If an employee makes a racist statement outside of work—like on a social media platform—it can reflect badly on your company or even lead to a formal hostile workplace complaint.
      If you have a social media policy, then make sure it includes language about racial discrimination and harassment on social media platforms. Remind your employees that your zero-tolerance policy applies to social media as well. Again, emphasize that employees are entitled to their opinions, but they need to exercise good judgment when writing posts or sharing content on social media.

No matter how much you do to prevent racial discrimination and harassment, sometimes situations still arise that must be handled by HR. Make sure you have the proper channels in place for employees to file claims and that they know that these channels are available to them. Keep detailed records, even if nothing comes of a claim. Err on the side of caution—not to mention the law—and always follow through on every claim, for every employee.

What are other ways you try to prevent racial discrimination and harassment from cropping up in your company?

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About Kelly Painter

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Kelly Painter, Vice President of Sales, has over 12 years of experience working in talent management.

4 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Maria W. April, 04, 2016

    Racism seems to be encouraged by political speeches and recent events that involve terrorism. Debates are likely to escalate unless companies manage them before they damage the employees and the business. 

  • Genesis C. April, 04, 2016

    World events in the past six months seem to have increased racist speeches, and not just in the USA. Terrorist attacks create emotions that can get out of control, so HR departments need to be prepared and act according to the law when racist behavior appears in a company. 

  • Aubree L. April, 06, 2016

    There are discriminatory acts that can turn into harassment if not stopped in time. The laws and policies against such acts must be made known inside a company, and opening discussions on the subject can greatly help with this.  

  • Phil April, 07, 2016

    I’ve never seen or heard of any racial discrimination in companies here in the UK. I think it’s become such a big bogeyman through the media and legal fears that companies here run in fright at anything that they may do that might be construde as being racist. It’s still a topic the media like to rattle on about many years after the issue was dealt with and went away, it’s no doubt an easy paying story to write about but it’s time the media got with the times. In terms of Trump, many Mexicans are illegals so don’t have the right to work – hardly racist, it’s the law that applies to all foreigners in the US without work visa. The Muslim remarks are about terrorist concerns not hiring issues.

    Of more concern is age discrimination, the number of times employers still ask me my age at interview when they really shouldn’t be due to age discrimination laws and etiquette. They really need to get with the times on that one and realise applicants are not over the hill boxers that refuse to quit, there minds are still very much in gear.

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Guest April, 07, 2016