Casual Racism: What Is It?
- "I'm not racist but..." Putting these words in front of a potentially racist statement doesn't make the statement any less racist. This includes seemingly innocent variations like, "I'm not racist. I have (insert ethnic group here) friends." Having friends of a particular ethnic group does not entitle anyone to make racist comments.
- "You speak very good English for a (insert ethnic group here)." The speaker may think that he or she is giving a compliment...but even if they don’t realize it, they are also saying that the subject has inferior English skills.
- Dismissing an offended person by saying, "It wasn't intended..." or "Sorry if you can't take a joke...” With casual racism, impact matters more than intent...and no one has the right to "choose" who gets offended by our jokes. Instead of dismissing the subject, put yourself in their shoes and try to understand the impact of your words from their point of view.
What HR Must Do To Fight Casual Racism
- Demonstrate behaviors that are free of casual discrimination.
- Encourage an honest, constructive and on-going dialogue about casual racism in the workplace among employees.
- Have clear written policies and procedures which prohibit workplace discrimination and which comply with any state requirements in related areas (such as workplace bullying and gender discrimination).
- Distribute discrimination policies to all employees and secure signed acknowledgements both as part of new hire orientation as well as periodically (such as when events warrant a global reminder to all employees).
- Partner with managers to keep clear records of corrective action.
- Not depend on “employment at-will” language to protect the company when implementing terminations; instead, document the circumstances leading up to the termination and the reasons for it.
- Take all employee complaints of discrimination seriously and respond with a prompt, thorough and confidential investigation. Remember: employees who feel their discrimination complaint is not taken seriously are far more likely to seek resolution through an attorney and/or the EEOC.
- Stay up-to-date on the latest EEOC rulings, especially now that the EEOC has become much more aggressive in investigating and pursing discrimination claims, Just 2 examples: the EEOC website proudly reported for fiscal year 2013 that it "obtained the highest monetary recovery in agency history through its administrative process, increasing by $6.7 million to $372.1 million" and among major employers, California falls solidly in the top 5 states with the most EEOC claims.
- Help senior management understand in clear, quantified terms the impact and cost (operationally, legally and financially) that discrimination in any form - including casual racism - has on their business.
What HR Must Do To Address Workplace Violence
HR Practitioners have an important advantage over some other business professionals: whether they are doing a job interview, a counselling session or an investigation, HR Practitioners specialize in reading people and situations…they specialize in “reading between the lines” and picking up behavioral clues that others might miss. This ability – a mix of intuition sharpened by training, adept observation and listening skills and field experience – is a valuable tool that HR should prove to employers it can use effectively and once proven, which employers should learn to trust. Used wisely, it can go a long way towards proactively identifying threats of workplace violence and can be incorporated into all phases of the employee life cycle. Steps which HR can take in combination with leveraging its insight include:
- Conducting legally compliant screening and background checks, then evaluating all results with sound (and consistent) judgement especially with regard to any criminal infractions.
- Fostering a workplace and culture that is free of any form of discrimination – including casual racism – an environment where employees sincerely believe that they can voice their complaints and express themselves safely without fear of retaliation.
- Promptly resolving employee conflicts and conducting prompt, thorough and impartial investigations when appropriate.
- Educating managers on signs of employees demonstrating potentially violent behavior.
- Establishing employee assistance programs to help employees manage behaviors which could lead to workplace violence.
- Designing emergency policies and procedures with specific steps for dealing with workplace violence, and training employees and managers on same.
These steps only scratch the surface of what HR can – and must do – to help prevent workplace violence. Although greater detail is beyond the scope and intent of this post, one highly recommended starting point for designing your own program to prevent workplace violence is an excellent publication by the Department of Homeland Security titled, “Active Shooter: How to Respond”. This document is free of charge and the link to it appears below at the end of this post.
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