Can My Boss Accuse Me Of Racism?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about racism:

A new lady who is black was hired at work and had keys I needed. I asked my boss, “can you please get my keys from..umm…that lady?” (I had forgotten her name as I had only met her once) and my boss jumped down my throat for saying that lady and two days later pulled me into her office and accused me of being racist. Not once have I ever made any racial comment or anything and this is totally out of left field. Never in my life have I ever been called racist and I am very offended…and hurt. Is this ok for a boss to do?

I want to contact corporate but I’m not sure if it’d be worth it or if anything would come of it. I feel the entire thing is highly inappropriate and she had no grounds to stand on accusing me like that. She started the conversation with confronting me about saying “that lady” giving me a chance to explain I had forgotten her name, and that it didn’t come out right and I apologized for sounding rude but that it was a misunderstanding, etc but then she proceeded with calling me prejudice anyways.

Signed, Falsely Accused

Dear Falsely Accused:

I can imagine how frustrating and hurtful it would be to be unfairly accused of racism. However, unless you were sanctioned in some way (a disciplinary action or something else that could be considered punishment) there isn’t anything to appeal higher up. If your boss felt your tone or remark indicated racism or a very negative feeling about the new employee, she was obligated to say something to you about it. But, the fact that she didn’t do anything formal probably indicates she realizes it would be hard to prove.

What you want to avoid is pushing back about it in such a way that it causes your boss to treat it more severely. If she were to contact your corporate office, they might agree with her opinion. They would almost certainly think she was correct to have questioned you and warned you about it. Consider writing her an email or memo in which you tell her once again that you didn’t mean anything rude by your remark. If you keep your note focused on wanting to ensure she knows you would not do such a thing, rather than on accusing her of acting wrongly, she may realize she was in error and talk to you about it again, this time with a different approach. You would also have your statement documented that way.Another thing you can do is to show through your actions toward the new employee that you are accepting, welcoming and not biased.

The employee probably isn’t aware that all of this happened and would feel badly to know that an inadvertent remark was the cause of a problem. Don’t mention the situation to her or talk about it to other employees since that could be considered another organizational violation. Just treat her with respect, help her as she gets settled into the work and be a workplace friend and colleague. Over time your boss will realize she was mistaken, which is what you are after.Your good work and future actions will help you overcome this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe