Medical office in business 8 years (35 employees)
A female employee revealed to NEMR that one of the company’s highest level managing directors had laughingly used racial slurs in front of her and other minority staff members. He also touched her during conversations in her immediate space. The employee was insulted, uncomfortable and horrified at the director’s behavior and insensitivity, and had consulted with a family member who is an attorney. Did this constitute a hostile work environment? Were the worker’s rights abused? What if the director did not mean to offend anyone?
The staff member called NEMR because of the positive, ongoing relationship we have with our clients at every level: owners, managers and individual employees. She said that she trusted us to resolve the situation. We immediately reached the company owners, President of the Board of Directors and affiliated healthcare system to detail how we would investigate, and then met with the alleged offender to inform them of the complaint. Our three-week inquiry uncovered six incidents corroborated by witnesses, including inappropriate comments/slurs, touching, and improper accusations toward minority staff. The accused supervisor admitted to these allegations and stated that no harm was intended.
NEMR presented a full report with recommendations that the managing director be terminated and that all managers and staff receive anti-harassment and Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) training. The recommendations were followed.
- Costly litigation is avoided. Out of court settlements for these types of claims average tens of thousands of dollars and juries have awarded hundreds of thousands to employees who have been harmed.
- Removal of the manager protects the company from further offenses and possible litigation stemming from the offender and sends a strong signal that workplace discrimination will not be tolerated.
- Productivity is not lost from employees taking time off because they fear their manager or feel harassed at the workplace.
- Training shows directors, managers, supervisors and staff what inappropriate workplace behavior looks like and creates awareness about the rights of workers and the responsibilities of employers.
About Harassment, Discrimination and Hostile Work Environments
Harassment and discrimination can occur between co-workers but it is commonly between a supervisor and a subordinate. An employer is obligated to protect all employees from the type of hostile work environment that racial slurs and harassment can create. The employer is well within their rights to fire an employee for abusing the rights of others.
The best way to protect your workforce and your company is to recognize and understand that using offensive language in the workplace is unacceptable. Extreme cases including cultural or religious discrimination can have a severe detrimental impact on your work environment. Any incident should be immediately addressed with an investigation and if the complaint has merit, the employer may discipline the offender. Remediation may include training, suspension and possible termination. The entire process must be documented.