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Handling the hate

John Heckers //February 3, 2011//

Handling the hate

John Heckers //February 3, 2011//

 When Rush Limbaugh mocked the Chinese language and Asian people on his radio show, it hit home. You see, my wife and her family are Asian. She is Thai and Chinese, and her adoptive parents are of proud Japanese heritage. They all grew up with such ignorant mockery of their race. That it still exists is unconscionable in our society. That any company still sponsors this show, with its racism and bigotry, is shameful.

But this kind of bigotry which, for a very long time, had not been tolerated in the workplace, is slowly creeping back in. Here are some ways to handle it.

1). Make clear that there is a “zero tolerance” policy on hate speech. Racist, sexist, ageist, etc. remarks must be dealt with at once, and harshly. If they are not, you are risking a complaint, bad PR or lawsuits. Even if you, yourself, are a Neanderthal, you must enforce the law of the land. And the law of the land does not allow people to be insulted or demeaned in their workplace.

2). Even if the law does not protect a group, you must. LGBTQ persons are not yet protected under the law in most places. Neither are larger Americans. But every person deserves to be allowed to do their job without harassment in today’s workplace. Make this very clear to your staff. Remember, a group does not have to be protected under the law to file lawsuits for “hostile environment.”

3). Watch “humor.” Humor is touchy. One person’s belly laugh is another person’s offense. I have mostly solved that by being pretty corny. Corny is better than offensive, though most of my jokes get groans, not laughs. Humor in the workplace should be kept “G-Rated,” and not refer to anything sexual, ethnic, racial, and so on. Make sure that your staff understands this. You may get called “politically correct.” This is better than getting called “a defendant.”

4). Keep the radio or TV neutral. No Rush or Beck. No Maher or Maddow, either. If you allow radios or TV sets, make sure that they are tuned to neutral shows and channels. This means no Fox News and no MSNBC. These are inflammatory stations and will cause workplace friction you don’t need.

5). Watch inter-office emails. Sending political or “humorous” emails is a really great way to get your company in deep doo-doo. Don’t allow your people to send them. Even if the email is from their personal email account, you can get in trouble if it is sent from an office computer. Make clear that sending emails that could be deemed offensive is a terminating offense. The only emails sent while at the office or from the office computers should be emails having to do with work. When they’re at home on their own computers, they have freedom of speech…sort of. Check with your attorney on this one and strictly follow his or her advice. A couple of recent cases have put this one up in the air.

6). Set the example. Don’t assume that all of your staff holds the same opinions as you do. Keep political speech out of the office. And hate speech of any kind, whether against a race, a gender, or any other group, or the President of the United States (regardless of party) has no place in the workplace. Set the example by not talking about controversial subjects in your office or place of work.

7). Ban non-work-related groups from using office spaces. This is, I know, controversial. But it is possible that, if you allow one non-work-related group to use conference rooms, and so on for their activities, you’ll have to allow all non-work-related groups to use this space. Professional associations or professional networking groups are fine. But when you start to let a sewing circle or Weight Watchers use office resources, you open the door for religious or political groups to demand equal time. And this opens the door for trouble.

8). Keep a long arm. Make sure your rules against hate speech or hostility extend beyond the actual workplace into all work situations. If your staff is out together at a restaurant, you might still be able to be held accountable for any hate speech. Make clear that your “zero tolerance” policy extends to all work situations, including “working lunches,” birthday bashes, retirement parties, holiday parties, etc.

The polarization of our country is being done so a few agitators can get rich by making people’s blood boil. Don’t let their profit ruin yours!

Ready for that new executive job? Join John and up to 40 of your colleagues on February 14th, 2011, for Structured Networking and have a great excuse to avoid one of those nasty Valentine’s Day dinners. More info and required registration here.

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