Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My boss is a racist. What should I do?

Dear Diversity Diva: My boss is a racist. What should I do?
Dear Diversity Diva: I’m a black woman working for a business that is about to fire me because I don’t get along with my boss, a white woman who I know is racist. I haven’t bothered going to HR because I know they won’t do anything. What do you think I should do? — Rock in a Hard Place
Dear Rock: You’ve got more issues going on than you realize, and it sounds like it’s all about to come to a head.
To begin, how do you know you are about to be fired? For example, if you have been put on probation or given some form of disciplinary warning, your perception that your job is in jeopardy might be quite accurate. However, if you’re just assuming because of the boss tensions, then you may not be at the danger point — just quickly getting there.
Regardless of whether you are guessing or getting direct feedback about the imminent mortality of your job, it is a mistake to keep human resources out of it. From a practical standpoint, you should go to them because you may be getting a lot of things wrong. Maybe your boss is racist. Maybe she’s not. Maybe she’s discriminating against you. Maybe she’s not.
Maybe your job is completely secure but your perceptions and fears are leading you to sit on the railroad tracks ready to be hit by the train. If that’s the case, someone in HR might be able to objectively hear you out and help you fix the situation.
Additionally, from a legal standpoint, if you do get fired and decided to sue on the basis of discrimination, your employer will be able to use the defense that you never complained or gave them the opportunity to resolve discriminatory behavior that may have taken place.
Regardless of what you decide to do, your key objective should be to stop being miserable in a job that is no longer serving you. In these difficult economic times, take the opportunity while you still have a job to find another.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why can't I call an older co-worker "Grandpa"?

Dear Diversity Diva: In the restaurant where I work, we young people call this older guy we work with “Grandpa.” We don’t mean any harm, but our boss says we need to stop calling him that. If Grandpa doesn’t mind, why do we have to stop? — Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number

Dear Age: I’m sure you and your co-workers mean no disrespect when you call your older comrade Grandpa. It sounds like it may even be a title of affection and admiration.
However, your boss has more to consider than just whether you like calling a co-worker something other than his name or even whether Grandpa minds the nickname.
For one, I get the impression that you’re assuming Grandpa doesn’t mind being called by that name. You may be right. However, I don’t know if your older co-worker is 35 or 75. Because employees over the age of 40 are legally considered to be in a protected class— meaning that they can sue on the basis of age discrimination — your supervisor may be concerned that Grandpa might claim age discrimination someday and cite your playful nickname as part of the complaint.
Also, remember that your boss has to take into account that other older co-workers and customers who overhear in the restaurant may take offense.
Another possibility you may not have considered is that Grandpa really doesn’t like that nickname and he is the one who went to the boss and complained about it. Many times, even the friendliest co-worker feels more comfortable going to the boss on the sly rather than taking complaints directly to the source for fear of confrontation or creating tension. Even the most direct person has been known to take that approach to keep calm waters and to make the boss the heavy.
A lot of times, conflict in the workplace comes from the impressions created by workers who mean no harm. In a case like this, therefore, the best thing to do is just follow your boss’s guidance. Call Grandpa by his given name.