Racial Hostility in the Workplace
July 6, 2012 6:39 AM   Subscribe

Co-worker just ended a diatribe about different types of Black people. We want to see consequences for this person. How do we write this report to HR?

Asking for another person:

"A white co-worker used highly inflammatory language, including VERY frequent use of the n-word, to describe "different types of Black people." This happened in-office, after she yelled at a Black patient. When calmly challenged, she said "I grew up with them. I know how those (n-word)s are (sic). I know better than anyone in this office." She then continued to rant for some time before running out of steam. I am the only person of color in my office."

The person would like to know how to present this to HR in a way that achieves maximum results. The office is within a large medical establishment in NY.

Thanks so much!
posted by Ashen to Human Relations (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Just send that paragraph in an email to HR and tell them you were highly offended by her words and attitude. I assure you they will take it from there including (most likely) interviewing people who were around when it happened.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:43 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Don't embellish anything, don't talk about how upset or traumatized it made you personnaly. It's already terrible. The more dispassionate you can be the better it is.

Simply write down, to the best of your memory, exactly what she said. Keep you and your personal feelings out of it. (This will keep her from saying that you took it wrong, or whatever else these odious people say to justify their ugliness.)

Then submit it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:46 AM on July 6, 2012 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Each of you should send your own version of that paragraph. Document what patient it was, what room, who was around when she spoke and anything else you can remember. Mail that to HR and CC your boss/unit manager.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 6:53 AM on July 6, 2012 [24 favorites]

Every situation/position/workplace/boss is different, but I'd skip the boss and send it straight to HR.

I've seen situations in the past where the boss tried to diffuse the situation (with good intentions) rather than let it go to HR where the trained professionals can handle it the way it should be handled. The situation ended up getting watered down and 'overseen' by the boss instead of being dealt with directly and swiftly by HR.
posted by matty at 6:58 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Write the world's most neutral, detailed, factual email, with as many specific quotes as you have at your disposal.

Include names of anyone else present, place it happened, time it happened.

It's okay to say at the end "I was very troubled by this" or some such but the details are stronger if undiluted by commentary.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:59 AM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Everyone's right about just sending a neutral transcription of what they said to HR. If there is any possibility that any of your customers or clients could have overheard it, mention that fact as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:21 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Agreed with neutral presentation. Also, remember that when you want to get results from a company, appeal to the company's interests, i.e. money. Thus, not only were you and your co-workers seriously offended and made uncomfortable, this person was racially abusive to a patient (client). This is not only bad for business but shows that this person is a liability for lawsuits based on mistreatment due to race.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:30 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is not only bad for business but shows that this person is a liability for lawsuits based on mistreatment due to race.

It is not necessary (and would be counter-productive) to point this out. HR is extremely aware of all of the things you or anyone else may sue for.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:32 AM on July 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

Nthing a dispassionate, detailed, fact-driven account. Do NOT all collectively submit anything. Each person should write it all up in their own words and submit it individually. Your employer MAY have a designated form you'll all need to fill out.

Make sure to include stuff like "Bob said 'I am extremely troubled by what you're saying, you evil racist' at around 9:25am." HR should get her side of the story - it is critical that you leave nothing out, even if you think it makes someone else (besides her) look bad.
posted by SMPA at 7:32 AM on July 6, 2012

Best answer: Lose the adjectives. "She used the n-word [X] times," instead of "VERY frequent use of the n-word." Quote what was said in place of "calmly challenged." Let her quotes stand on their own and lose the phrase, "highly inflammatory language." In other words, use facts and do not characterize them.

And yes, it's totally okay (and smart) to close by stating how you felt. Don't make a diatribe out of it, but from HR's perspective it is definitely a relevant element of the incident that coworkers were made to feel [uncomfortable? etc.].
posted by cribcage at 7:33 AM on July 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

You might want to just go to HR. That woman sounds like she is possibly having a mental breakdown and is being verbally abusive to patients and coworkers. Maybe she needs to be sent home immediately.
posted by discopolo at 7:35 AM on July 6, 2012

I don't think she needs to be dispassionate and neutral. As a person of color, your friend was also being affected by the diatribe and may have legal recourse. It is totally appropriate for her to express how upset this made her. I would also cc the bosses along with hr.
posted by yarly at 7:39 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey everyone, thanks so much for the replies so far!

There's a complication that I neglected to add: the person who I'm asking for has MS. This particular incident has flared it up significantly, and she can't decide whether or not to go home. Should she? Would this impact the HR report?
posted by Ashen at 7:41 AM on July 6, 2012

Ashen: This particular incident has flared it up significantly, and she can't decide whether or not to go home. Should she? Would this impact the HR report?

Other employee's medical decisions are not your business - period. The person in question has not been able to do their job professionally and has been abusive to clients. That's all you should report to HR, and all HR (should) take into account.
posted by saeculorum at 7:51 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

No, the reporter's (complainant's?) being sick should in no way affect how HR views their report. Tell her to go home.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:54 AM on July 6, 2012

Wait, who's got MS? The person who went on the diatribe (I'll call her "Veruca") or the friend who asked you to ask us what to do ("Betty")?

If Betty is the one who has MS and wants to go home for the day, I don't see how that could affect things; go for it. Make it a separate issue, becacuse it is.

If Veruca is the one with MS, just leave it out of your complaint.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:56 AM on July 6, 2012

Write down notes, sooner rather than later. Don't wait until you're composing the final letter to get all the details straight in your head. Memory fades quickly, and you want the letter to be thorough but dispassionate.
posted by echo target at 7:58 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @EmpressCallipygos: "Betty" is the one who's ill. As far as I know, not a soul in the office knows.
posted by Ashen at 8:00 AM on July 6, 2012

the person who I'm asking for has MS. This particular incident has flared it up significantly, and she can't decide whether or not to go home. Should she?

I understand you probably mean this from a perspective of, "If she went home, would it help or hurt the weight of her complaint?" but at root it is a fairly specific, and possibly serious, medical question that probably has no place being asked or answered on the Internet.

No offense intended. I hope your coworker is okay. If she needs to call her doctor for advice, don't be shy about doing so.
posted by cribcage at 8:11 AM on July 6, 2012

Is the concern that Betty's perceptions of the incident could be taken as unreliable if it turns out that she felt ill enough to go home that day? That would be a pretty incredible argument for anyone to seriously make.

On the off-chance that you mean that Betty would like to imply that this episode was so upsetting that it caused an MS flare-up (or more generally "too sick to work") -- I think that's a bad idea.

Nthing everyone else, file separate complaints, keep the tone neutral and non-emotional except for one short sentence at the end stating that you were troubled/offended.
posted by desuetude at 9:03 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

MS doesn't turn you into a racist, as far as I know. I don't think her condition is relevant to what she said. It does give her an easy out if she just wants to quit, but that's not your concern.

Also, I am so sorry you had to hear that.

I think you've gotten good responses otherwise. If you go to HR to talk to someone, they'll most likely interview you and then have you write down, as best you remember, what happened, and sign it, and then they'll take it from there. (I've filed a complaint before about inappropriate behavior and that's what my HR dept did). This may actually be easier to do, in terms of getting it over with, than an email, but the method is not as important as that it gets done.
posted by emjaybee at 9:38 AM on July 6, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your answers, everyone! I'm going to link my friend to this thread - this will help her clear her mind a lot faster than grasping at straws in frustration. I'll post an update as soon as I have one!
posted by Ashen at 10:03 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Send it to HR and also to the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action office (not just for patients or students; they serve staff as well).

Do it as soon as you reasonably can. Tomorrow morning if possible. Don't want to open yourself up to "how bad could it have been if you waited n days" flak (not fair but it does happen.
posted by skbw at 2:26 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing to make sure you document that it was said in front of a patient. This makes HR aware that it's already going outside and cannot be covered up. (In case they try to.)
posted by corb at 7:52 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dropping the n-bomb is not something you need to sugarcoat. Hospitals are very efficient in dealing with HR issues because the entire culture is risk management.
posted by moammargaret at 1:43 AM on July 7, 2012

Response by poster: Update: The person I've placed this AskMe for has filed a formal complaint, and wrote it using the awesome suggestions you wrote here. It's being challenged, however: HR claims that the co-worker who used the n-word "didn't actually mean what she said." My friend is going to continue to formally document each incident.

Thanks so much, everyone.
posted by Ashen at 5:25 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

> HR claims that the co-worker who used the n-word "didn't actually mean what she said."

HR needs to understand that employees randomly using the n-word around patients is offensive and unprofessional, period.
posted by desuetude at 10:52 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Document that conversation with HR and take THAT to Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action as well. Then I would also take the whole mess to the Ombuds Office, which any large institution has as well. Ombuds is supposed to be an impartial red-tape-free place for dialogue outside the usual channels, but in my experience they are often staffed by progressive types who will give you strength even if they can't officially take sides.

I assume "conversation" with HR because no sane person in 2012 would put "she didn't really mean it" in writing when talking about racial slurs! If they did, then so much the better.

Not that you're playing to lose--you're playing to win, that is, see the rules properly applied. But here's something to keep in the back of your mind. Let's say you go all the way up and document everywhere and the consensus is, "oh, this is lamentable, inappropriate behavior that doesn't rise to an actionable level." And this, sadly, may be their conclusion (I'm jumping ahead for a reason, hold on). Even IF that is the result, then think of the corrective force that even the investigation caused. Even IF the diatriber is not punished, the embarrassment of being investigated will most likely give her cause to reconsider next time, even if there isn't a meter on the side of her head from which you can measure her level of repentance.

Fight the good fight!
posted by skbw at 7:16 AM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

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