Dear Diversity Diva: You always write about employees with racist or sexist bosses, but what about us bosses who have an employee who always accuses them of discrimination? In particular, I have a minority female who always accuses me (a white guy) of bias whenever she gets upset with me.
Signed, Trying to Prove a Negative
Dear Trying: As with most situations like this, the devil is in the details.
The most obvious question to ask is, are you biased against the employee? And if so, is it because of her gender or race? It’s an obvious question yet one that most people fail to ask themselves because the knee-jerk reaction to that accusation is to deny it. We like to think of ourselves as fair people and honestly don’t see our internal motivations as being motivated by anything other than pure objectives.
Now I’m not saying that every accusation of bias requires deep, soul-searching analysis, just that the question needs to be asked. And it almost definitely requires asking you the question if you’ve heard this from more than one employee or person. Also, it may be that the employee accurately picks up on the fact that you don’t like her, but she’s mistaken about the reason.
Ultimately, you have to look at how you treat the employee. If you know that you are treating the employee fairly then you can’t allow yourself to be hamstrung every time you do something that she doesn’t like.
As uncomfortable as it will be, you should probably do what you should have done the first or second time she accused you of treating her differently because of her race or gender — report this to the human resources department.
It may seem that I am advising you to go tell on yourself, and for something that you don’t even believe is true. But you can’t take the chance that her perceptions do become fact. In other words, if she calls you racist or sexist long enough — especially if she’s repeating this to co-workers — it may snowball into a widespread reputation that you may find impossible to refute if she or some other employee files a formal complaint.
Your employee may honestly believe you harbor a bias against her. Or she may be failing to do her own internal work to ask herself if she’s confusing bias with supervision. Either way, at this point, you should let someone official help you figure it out.