Left unchecked, racism in the workplace can turn into acts of discrimination or outright harassment. It is the HR department’s responsibility to make sure that this doesn’t happen. A good offense is the best defense, so it’s better to be proactive in preventing racial discrimination and harassment rather than reacting after the complaints start rolling in.
Here are some ways that HR can help prevent racial discrimination and harassment from rearing its ugly head in the workplace.
Establish a zero-tolerance policy. Every workplace must abide by the federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, these laws don’t protect every employee in every situation. To make sure your company is in the clear, it’s a good idea to establish a zero-tolerance policy, if you don’t already have one. Circulate it to all of your employees regularly (maybe every year) and have them sign a form acknowledging receipt. This way you, as an employer, are making it clear to your entire workforce that racial discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated and can be grounds for termination.
Open a safe dialogue. People usually have questions, especially when it comes to sensitive issues and difficult situations. Let employees know they can bring up any questions or concerns to the HR department. Giving them the opportunity to voice their concerns can help prevent certain problems from arising in the first place—or worsening. Raise awareness about racial discrimination and harassment. Consider holding educational workshops that go over EEOC laws and your company’s own policies. You can discuss different examples of racial discrimination and harassment, or even play out specific scenarios. Emphasize that employees are entitled to their opinions but encourage them to use good judgment when voicing those opinions.
Look beyond the workplace. Instances of racial discrimination and harassment can extend beyond your company’s walls. If an employee makes a racist statement outside of work—like on a social media platform—it can reflect badly on your company or even lead to a formal hostile workplace complaint. If you have a social media policy, then make sure it includes language about racial discrimination and harassment on social media platforms. Remind your employees that your zero-tolerance policy applies to social media as well. Again, emphasize that employees are entitled to their opinions, but they need to exercise good judgment when writing posts or sharing content on social media.
We wrote a new whitepaper about this subject:
Discrimination in the Workplace
5 Practical Ways to Minimize Selection Bias in Your Recruiting Process
It presents practical ways to minimize selection bias and eliminate discrimination in the workplace. Download it here.
No matter how much you do to prevent racial discrimination and harassment, sometimes situations still arise that must be handled by HR. Make sure you have the proper channels in place for employees to file claims and that they know that these channels are available to them. Keep detailed records, even if nothing comes of a claim. Err on the side of caution—not to mention the law—and always follow through on every claim, for every employee.
What are other ways you try to prevent racial discrimination and harassment from cropping up in your company?
Kelly Painter is the Vice President of Sales of eSkill Corporation. She has over 12 years of experience working in talent management. Kelly has a broad background in scoping talent solutions, implementation planning, delivery of services, and strategic planning on behalf of her clients. As a talent management solution provider, she has delivered real business results to her customers, while leading and developing a high-performing team of sales and service professionals.