Monday, February 25, 2008

When HR won't halt racism, seek outside help

Dear Diversity Diva: I work for a medium-size organization where I am one of a handful of minority women. My team leader has openly made racist comments, which we reported to our human resources department. Upon investigation, our boss admitted that he made the comments, but HR came to us and pressured us into letting the situation go. What do we do now that we’ve complained and not only have our complaints been ignored but our boss still continues to offend? — Ignored by Management
Dear Ignored: First, let me just say I’m sorry for the stress you and your co-workers have endured. It sounds as if your working environment has become close to intolerable.
When bosses make public and derogatory statements about a racial group and then compound this by being deliberately callous to the harm created by those remarks, the situation moves rapidly beyond just a diversity issue.
You did the right thing in going to HR to make a complaint and seek a resolution. And I hope you and your co-workers have kept good notes both on the offenses you’ve complained about as well as your talks with HR.
Some HR departments are a lot better than others, and it’s too bad that you have to deal with one that essentially told you to stop taking things so seriously.
When a problem or issue is strictly a diversity issue — understanding and dealing with the differences of people in the workplace — solutions can often be individual, creative and informal.
But when the allegations involve creation of a hostile working environment based on race — something prohibited by law — your solutions are few. You’ve already done the first and major one by going to HR. Now you need to seek out the advice of an attorney who will examine the facts and either take on your case or give you guidance on how you can follow up yourself with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a complaint.
Because of time requirements, you should seek outside help sooner rather than later.