Dealing with Racism on the Job

Dealing with Racism on the Job

We could dance around this issue, but there really isn’t any real point in doing that, so here goes. There are a lot of racists out there, but there are even more people who aren’t actually racist but say racist things without meaning to. They say things they’ve heard. The say things they were raised to believe.

Either way, they’re walking around like the rest of us and some include our coworkers, including those in the construction industry.

Working in this type of environment is tough for an enlightened person (not the mention the targeted race(s)) and it’s no picnic for a boss. You need employees and for the most part, your workers do their thing, but disparaging and racist remarks are more than you can allow. Your minority employees are starting to get aggravated, tired of taking the high ground and ignoring the behavior.

If something isn’t done, things are soon going to get ugly.

You might be tempted to hand down a hard and fast, “If I hear you say something racist you’re outta here!” rule. Sure, that would solve the problem but it would also pretty much eliminate your workforce. Why? Because although there are plenty of people who deliberately say racist things, there are almost just as many who say things without even realizing what they’re saying is racist. This doesn’t excuse their racist behavior, but it does shed some light on the issue.

So, how can you as an owner or manager of a construction company keep your employees from tossing around racial epithets and sharing racist humor when you can’t get them to stop catcalling women?

When you hear it, call it out. If you hear an employee even start to tell an off-color joke, tell him to knock it off. Ignoring it is the equivalent of condoning it – if your employees think the boss is okay with it, they’ll keep doing it. As a matter of fact, they’ll dive into it with even more gusto because you just gave them the green light.

Here are a few ways to determine if a joke or story is appropriate:

• If looking around to see who is in the room before a joke is told is necessary, then it probably should not be told.
• If it’s not acceptable for everyone to hear, it shouldn’t be said.
• If saying things intentionally in front of someone is an attempt to make them feel inferior – the motivation is pretty obvious.

Make it clear that employees who enjoy doing these kinds of things might want to consider whether it’s worth the risk.

What Risk?

Well, here’s the thing: It’s unfortunately common for some people not to like a particular race. Many people don’t like things for irrational reasons. But the fact is, it’s illegal to discriminate against others and that includes telling off-color, racist jokes about them on the job. That behavior will get people fired.

It should get people fired because it’s not how good employees act or what good employees do. Things like that disrupt the workplace and can often lead to violent encounters. So, is that joke about a couple of wetbacks really worth telling?

Here’s what it comes down to: If you don’t like Blacks, Mexicans, Asians, Muslims or any other race, that’s on you. How someone feels can’t be changed by law. But what can and has been changed is your ability to call them n-words, wetbacks, chinks and towel heads while on the job.

They can sue you and if they win, you’ll find yourself out of a job. Even if they don’t win, you might still find yourself out of a job because you’re a disruptive employee. Seriously, it’s not worth the risk, so keep that stuff to yourself.

Maybe if you spent less time making fun of people, telling off-color jokes about them and perpetuating stereotypes and spent more time actually talking and getting to know your coworkers, you might even realize how wrong you were about them.

And for you bosses and employers out there, if you’ve hired these people, then on at least some level you recognize their value in the workplace. Why would you let other employees tamper with that?

Don’t let the situation get out of control. When you see, or even suspect there’s racial tension within your ranks, step in and let everyone know this behavior won’t be tolerated. The faster you come down on the issue, the more serious your employees will take you.

Bear in mind, too, that as the boss, you can be ultimately responsible if a court finds that someone had to endure a hostile work environment, even if you weren’t aware of what was going on. You’re the boss… it’s your responsibility to know.

We all have to make a living and we all deserve to do it in an environment that isn’t rife with racial tension. So employers – keep an eye on your workers. And you workers – learn to play nice.


  • Brandon mitchell April 30, 2016 at 12:04 am

    I think it’s racist you say n word but have no problem saying Chink wet back or towel head

  • Scott Davidge April 30, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    I agree with the general idea of your article and that racism has no place on the job site. I do have a problem that you generalize racism as a European (or white for a lack off a better term) on ethnic situation. Racism is racism, it don’t matter which race is hating Wich it’s still wrong. I’m a construction worker by trade and you do see a lot of racism on the job site, but it’s not just your stareo typed white on black hatred. There are racests in every culter and to put an end to it they all have to be called out and held accountable. I felt that when you generalized what racism is you lost some power of what you ment your message to be.
    Scott Davidge

  • Tifany Albrecht May 2, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    So relevant. Appreciate how you speak clearly on this topic and thanks for calling out that whether a comment is purposeful or not— it is still racist.

  • cyr3n May 6, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    when i got started in special effects, typically i was the only female on the crew. although the department was generally very happy to have me there, i’d be excluded for some after work events because it was mostly for the guys. now, a person with thinner skin might be super offended or insecure that coworkers are going off as a clique… but after some introspection, there really arent that many places left anymore where gruffer guys can just go away and be pigs. i understand my mere presense could make some coworkers uncomfortable letting loose.. theres this wierd fear some men have that all women (or minorities) report back to some hive mind and keep score on who’s Priviledge card needs to be revoked. That is not the case, however, now that im in a hiring position for these jobs… anyone who trully has a mental disease where they cant treat other humans with basic on-job respect, isnt getting a call from me to work. so rather than threatening your workers with possible lawsuits, there is a softer consequence of having demonstrably awful interpersonal skills — you will financially suffer from lack of opportunities. someone youre acting like a fool around might tolerate you for one gig.. but they arent required to suffer you on future gigs. just a thought.


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