Everyday Ethics

Everyday Ethics

Racism in the Workplace: What Do You Do When a Coworker Makes Off-Color Remarks?

Recently, I put out a call amongst my acquaintance for their everyday ethical dilemmas. A friend brought me a great one–What do you do when someone at work is a racist?

The gist of her email (which she asked me not to share both to protect the parties’ privacy and her position at the medical school she attends), is summed up below:
My friend is participating in a rotation at a hospital as an alternative medical practitioner, and her position (and that of holistic medical practitioners in general) is tenuous. They must remain on good terms with hospital staff to
maintain their hospital privileges.

Apparently, the liaison with whom my friend works at this hospital has been overheard making shocking racist statements about a certain ethnic group. So far, it’s just derogatory slurs, not actions, but it’s been disturbing my friend and making her uncomfortable. Yet she doesn’t feel she can say anything to the woman directly without jeopardizing both her own position and her entire school’s curriculum. She tried voicing her concerns to her supervisor, but the supervisor took no action. Now she’s wondering if she has a moral imperative to take action on her own. Says my friend:

“I’m in a quandary…If someone said something like that I would
usually say something, but what do you do say if a boss, or someone, let’s say
your mother-in-law, says a very off-color racist statement….
 I haven’t said anything
to this liaison yet…but I think I will if she continues to say it…I’m
annoyed by the whole thing. Would I be right if I just STFU and kept up my role
as worker bee and not compromise our relationship with the hospital?
tell me.”


Wow, that’s a tough one, my friend. It’d be such an easier call if the liaison were doing something demonstrably to the detriment of the patients, rather than just saying horrid, bigoted things about them on the sly. But you’re in the tough position of having to weigh the needs of your school against the opinions of this woman, plus the good your school’s presence at the hospital does against the hate-mongering that–as far as you know–exists only in the liaison’s mental prejudices. It’d be another thing if you caught her pushing people of one ethnic background to the bottom of the care list, or keeping them off the clinic schedule, wouldn’t it?

Still, it hurts our sense of justice and fair play when we see someone spreading such ignorance and hate around, and feel compelled for political or practical reasons to say nothing. Do you think there might be a way you could bring the subject up, ex parte, and have a discussion with her? Maybe even invite the woman out for coffee, then explain that you don’t speak for your school, but you’ve noticed her ‘frustration’ with a certain ethnic group, and you wondered about it, and would like to invite her into a gentle dialogue…?
You know the woman. Do you think this sort of open but delicate confrontation might succeed?
What about others out there? Have you experienced a workplace racist? If so, what did you do?

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posted July 6, 2009 at 2:23 pm

That is admittedly a tough position — still, I do think your friend should perhaps find away to report this behavior under the condition of anonymity.
The attitude of this liaison can harm patients in many ways, even if he/she is not overtly racist. When my father was sick in the hospital, my mother’s questions and concerns were dismissed by the doctor who said that he “didn’t know how they did it in India, but this is America, not a village.”
That may not seem overtly racist to some, but the harm this dismissive and patronizing remark did to my mother’s faith in the hospital system (to say nothing of the quality of care my father received) was great.
Racism in any form is unacceptable anywhere, but in hospitals in particular I find it completely repugnant and inexusable.

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posted July 6, 2009 at 4:32 pm

If confronting a coworker with concern about her behavior jeopardizes your friend’s working relationship with the hospital, she might have larger concerns than just her liaison. It sounds like this bothers her enough that she wants to take some sort of action therefor she probably should. At the very least for her own peace of mind.
I agree that it’s definitely a sticky situation. It might be helpful to document in some way what’s happened (including having spoken to the supervisor) and then confront this woman. I like the idea of inviting her to an open, yet gentle conversation about the situation. If this somehow jeopardizes her relationship with the hospital, she will at least have done what she felt is right as well as have the situation documented.
If she feels like maintaining a civil working environment until the rotation is up, it might be helpful to wait until the rotation is over to confront her. Either way, I would probably document what’s going on as soon as possible if she decides she wants to say something.

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posted July 6, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Isn’t there an employee handbook that outlines the exact protocol? This isn’t tolerated anywhere these days. I think she should ask someone in HR or her supervisor for a copy of the employee handbook or guidelines. I’d be very very surprised if there wasn’t some sort of handbook including rules about this in this PC climate. Mine, for example, is very clear in this regard:
[Redacted] is committed to a work environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity. As such, discrimination of any kind is strictly prohibited. [Redacted] expects that all relationships among individuals in its employ will be business-like and free of bias, prejudice, harassment, and/or sexual harassment….Harassment on the basis of any other characteristic protected by law is also strictly prohibited. Under this policy, harassment is verbal or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of his or her race, color, creed, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, alienage, citizenship status, qualified veteran status, genetic predisposition, carrier status, or any other characteristic protected by law….Harassing conduct includes, but is not limited to, epithets, slurs, or negative stereotyping…denigrating jokes and display or circulation in the workplace of written or graphic material that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group….These policies apply to all applicants and employees. They prohibit harassment, discrimination, and retaliation of any kind, whether engaged in by fellow employees, by a supervisor or manager, or by someone not directly connected to [redacted]….It is the obligation of individuals who believe they have experienced conduct contrary to this policy or who have concerns about such matters to raise promptly any complaints or concerns with the management or with the chairman of the board of directors….

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posted July 6, 2009 at 5:28 pm

At some point standing up for what is right should take precedence over self-interest. This seems very similar to the prior situation discussed here:
I think the problem should be addressed with the liaison first. If these comments are widespread then it should be addressed by her program administrator. If that does not achieve the desired result then the program administrator on her side should address the problem with the liaison’s supervisor on the hospital’s side of the program. There is more at risk here than the individual’s relationship with the liaison. The program itself should seek to remedy the situation by preventing its nurse practitioners from being exposed to or associated with a hospital liaison that is acting unprofessionally.
Is it defensible to choose NOT to act?

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Your Name

posted September 15, 2009 at 5:11 pm

I am dealing with this right now!
It is draining to hear this woman make remarks in a round about way.
She never directs them towards me but she makes her feeling clear every single day. It is annoying to just not say anything but I am there to learn more about my job duties. I can’t help but feel hurt by her comments though.

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posted November 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Don’t do it. This woman making the racist comments may secretly not like YOU and is giving you a bait to bite.
If you must, write an anonymous email to the next-next person above.
Voice concerns but do not reveal your identity because your you know what is on the line.
Otherwise why would she make such racist comments around you? The last thing you would want to do is confront her directly and ask her to stop. She will begin to spread lies about you and make your work difficult.
Watch out. There’s a lot of rats out there.

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Racism at work

posted December 9, 2010 at 4:34 am

i agree with the Erin you need to regularize the relationship with coworker.. nice contribution come up with this kind of work

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Racism at work

posted March 10, 2011 at 8:50 am

Great post,, thanks for sharing us with these use full information…keep continue…

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posted September 24, 2011 at 10:52 am

Have I experienced a workplace racist? Yes, and it ended up being me. I didn’t know I had that in me; thought I was above it. I’m so ashamed. I sent an ugly text to a boss out of pure built up frustration with the seemingly impossible position I’ve been put in. But, I used the expression “n word”; I called myself the n word, but I spelled it out. Although it wasn’t directed at him, IT IS NEVER OKAY FOR A WHITE PERSON TO USE THIS WORD. REGARDLESS OF CONTEXT. In my bosses wisdom and graciousness he is having me do research on the matter and do a report on it; instead of firing me on the spot as he should have. I feel like a real horses behind.

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posted May 10, 2012 at 2:14 am

I’m curious…. I have nothing against any race or any ethnicity, I believe we are all humans therefore no race has special powers, so why do some white people, not all, but some act this way?

Again I have nothing against any race but my experience with white people in the work place hasn’t been a pleasant one. I get called things like Puerto rican porch monkey, they ask ignorant question like how did I get here and if I’m legal in the U.S, and I definately do not get looked at for promotions, when my workmanship is just as good as the white guy in my cell…. They don’t even call me by my name, they call me muchacho (meaning “dude” in Spanish). At first I took it lightly thinking this isn’t anything that should be that big of an issue, but its been months now and its only getting worse, to the point where they find new and exciting ways to insult me….

I’m from a rougher side of the neighborhood and if this were outside of the work place id more than happy and more than willing to handle myself, but at the workplace I need a little help, as to what I can and can’t do as well as what are my next steps to stop this. I don’t wanna lose the job but I really want these racist comments to stop…. And they call themselves a Christian company…. Sad how people treat others just because of appearances and cultural differences, it shouldn’t matter, but it has mattered even before the founding of this “great” nation (quite humorous, well I seem to.think so)…. If anyone can help, please help thanks….

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