Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about racist remarks by a coworker: Should I take it up with my immediate supervisor in private? Should I go ahead & send that letter to our VP? I’ve been nice & let it go, but it’s time to get her terminated.

I have a co-worker who sits right beside me in my office. I’ve heard her make racist remarks when she gets angry. She has made comments about sending Asians back on a ship, sending immigrants back to their home country since they know no English, & calling an Asian friend of mine a racial slur. I’ve been nice & let it go, but it’s time to get her terminated. I have a letter set up to send to our VP of Human Resources. She’s a nice person when she’s in a calm mood, but when her mood changes some of the stuff that comes out of her mouth can be offensive. Should I take it up with my immediate supervisor in private? Should I go ahead & send that letter to our VP? It’s a shame because I do get along with her, but…………it’s time for her to go. There’s no place for that stuff!

Signed, Next To Racist Speech

Dear Next To Racist Speech:

I know hate-speech is alive in some of our citizens and workplaces. Hate speech too often contributes to destructive, mean and discriminatory action, such as assigning a minority more difficult or dangerous work, yelling, swearing, less pay, poor evaluation, and ignoring deserved promotion. Can hostile and hateful speech be eliminated from our workplaces?

Laws of equal opportunity and against discrimination commit management toward that goal. Is the letter to a Vice President reporting a co-worker’s racist speech the best way to do that? Or you wonder might rather a better way to confront this be to speak about it in private to your immediate supervisor? You appear ready to choose one of these two ways of dealing with the racist speech you hear from your co-worker. You conclude: “it’s time for her to go. There’s no place for that stuff!”

Yet you say of this co-worker: “She’s a nice person when she’s in a calm mood.” And you do not report that she cheats, doesn’t do an honest day’s work, or has engaged in racist acts.Should management be alerted to racist speech? Should they be alerted to sexist speech? Should they be alerted to other forms of incivility?

My answer to each of these questions is Yes. Does that mean that any employee who voices racist, sexist, or uncivil remarks should be fired? Might there be another way to help eliminate hate speech without immediately firing a guilty employee? My answer to that also is Yes.

You have posed two ways to address your co-worker’s racist speech; a letter to a VP and report her privately to your immediate superior. That should begin an investigation and if there is evidence found that this co-worker does in fact spew racist talk, retraining, discipline and/or firing can result.Let me suggest two additional options for you to consider: One, report racist remarks to your Human Resources or upper management without designating a particular individual and recommending that diversity training is needed, and two, frankly speaking with your co-worker, telling her that you know she has learned to hate Asians and that you feel that is wrong. Moreover, her hateful prejudicial remarks can result in management discipline and firing.

What does your workplace handbook say about racist speech? Most likely, there is a policy statement that declares that it is not acceptable and that discipline can result. If you find such a statement, you might show this to your co-worker. It could save her job. Hate speech is all too common on our airwaves. And also I assume that you realize that good people, as well as bad, sometimes have experiences that cause them to feel their jobs are threatened by those of other races, and/or come to racist attitudes from what they hear, such as from some talk radio and television. This is to suggest that our society and that means our workplaces have much work to do to create speech that is racially respectful and not hate filled. Recent examples of that is the rebuke and re-education of Don Imus.

So I leave you with these thoughts. You might find the history and legal debate over hate speech of interest. There are many citations about that if you type it into your Internet, such as http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/hatespeech.htm Let me conclude by saying that the law is specific that management is responsible for making a serious effort to correct and prevent a hostile work environment. But also, I think that before actions are taken that would cause someone to lose her/his job an effort should be made to help such an individual know that hateful speech is not acceptable and neither are discriminatory acts. Will you get back to us with what you decide to do and how that works or fails to stop such hateful speech as that you describe?

William Gorden