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What to Do When the Boss Is Racist

The aftermath of the Paula Deen firing has brought up many issues for employees, not the least of which is what the heck we're supposed to do when the boss exhibits inappropriate behavior. In a long career, most of us will run into something that sets off our radar, whether it's racism, sexism, or homophobia. It's bad enough when it's a coworker, but when it's your boss, you'll have to approach the situation with special care. Here's what to do.

The aftermath of the Paula Deen firing has brought up many issues for employees, not the least of which is what the heck we’re supposed to do when the boss exhibits inappropriate behavior. In a long career, most of us will run into something that sets off our radar, whether it’s racism, sexism, or homophobia. It’s bad enough when it’s a coworker, but when it’s your boss, you’ll have to approach the situation with special care. Here’s what to do.

1. Hear something, say something.

If you can, it’s best to speak up the very first time the boss says something that feels inappropriate. Obviously, the power differential might get in the way here. If you are able to say something, you don’t need to discuss it in depth. A simple, “Oh, that makes me uncomfortable,” will do.

2. Write it down.

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If the behavior is ongoing, write down the specific incidents as they happen. Include the time and date, and be as straightforward as you can. Now’s not the time to go into how each incident made you feel. If you need to present your log to HR, you’ll want it be as “just the facts, ma’am” as possible.

3. Tell HR.

If communicating directly with your boss doesn’t work or doesn’t feel possible, definitely bring in HR. Come armed with times and dates and remember that you’re doing the company a favor. The last thing they want is to discover that theirs is a hostile work environment the hard way (in court). Don’t threaten legal action, either directly or in a veiled way. Present your case from the perspective of looking for a solution, not trying to get the evildoer punished. Remember that the goal is to create a safe, productive workplace, where everyone can feel comfortable and protected.

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Have you encountered racism at work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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Uncomfortable at Work
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Uncomfortable at Work
I work for a company in a small town. My boss, who happens to be the CEO, has made comments about my race. He has called me the wrong race. Saying I am Mexican when I am actually Filipino. I corrected him and he blatantly ignored me. Unfortunately he treats all his employees with disrespect. At a meeting he told us he was glad he was the smartest person at the table. He continued to tell us how wrong we all were. Also I watched a coworker get sick from the heat only for him to ignore the situation and… Read more »
happy to work
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D6na8mThe new boss I have makes blanket statements in the office..here is a mild example..” White people have to hate obama care because republicans hate obama care”  “Black people have to say they love obama care because the democrats love obama care”    It makes me feel really uncomfortable..he will hear a person say something completely out of context and go off on a lecture about Christianity or how white people can’t use a certain word but black people can and go on a diatribe about that topic.  Everyone around either just freezes or goes silent..I tried mentioning my discomfort… Read more »
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