Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Working in a Recession

I wrote a recent post encouraging workers, especially young workers, to keep up with time and attendance. It's important to be a responsible worker by SHOWING UP for work and not calling out constantly or showing up for work late on a regular basis.

I also wrote a recent post encouraging out-of-work folks to lay off the weed and other drugs, at least while they were searching for employment. Companies regularly drug test now and it would be a shame--and a waste of every one's time--to be offered a job and then lose the opportunity for employment based on a failed drug screening.

Today's post is along a similar theme, except I want to write about the recession, in general.

We all hope that the economy will turn around and we hope that the worst is behind us. But, since last year, economists have predicted that 2009 would be a bad year. All of 2009. It's great to hope that they are wrong, but we are still seeing the hemorrhaging of many jobs across the country and across industries.

When employers are in a recession, obviously, they are looking to cut costs. It's no different than a single person or family trying to analyze their finances and figuring out how to survive with less. For employers this means looking at productivity of processes and the productivity of workers. Employers wonder how things can be streamlined to be more effective using less resources. And, they start to consider if they can work more effectively with fewer employees.

Can the company survive by running a tighter ship? That's a key consideration of employers.

On Wall Street, women are saying that they are the first to get the ax, every time job cuts are made. They believe Wall Street firms are intentionally laying them off in order to keep the male workers based on gender bias.

Gender bias may not be the only potential problem as we work through the national financial crisis. We may have racial biases playing out, when determinations are made about who to keep and who to let go. Someone may use sexual orientation or age to determine job cuts.

Regardless, it is a tough job market out there. Depending on the current viability of your field, it may be just as tough to keep a job as it is tough to find a job.

In a recession, you have to remember one of the things I often write about...don't give people ammunition to use against you!! So, here are some quick recession tips:

--Get in tight with clients! If clients love you and find you very helpful, it will be hard for an employer to let you go. Ingratiate yourself with your clients and do the best work you can!

--Be proactive! For instance, come up with ideas on how to improve processes and/or to have work completed for a task more efficiently! Show you are interested in your work and are putting serious thought into how to work better and smarter. Streamlining work and/or processes would be a great accomplishment(s) to be able to discuss at your mid-year and year-end performance evaluations.

--Try to come up with ideas on how the company can save money (e.g., shipping, travel expenses, etc.) and pass along those ideas. This will really put you in a good light and is another great accomplishment to list on mid-year and year-end performance evaluations.

--Be a positive person and try to work well with your coworkers. We're in negative and often depressing time. People are worried, personally and professionally. No one is in the mood for a jerk or for a really negative person.

--Do a great job with your assignments! Don't give anyone a reason to consider letting YOU go! If you've been slacking, pick up your game and show what you can do. You still might be able to save your job.

--Seek a mentor at work and find out how you can make yourself more valuable on the job. You can also use a mentor as a sounding board for feedback and to get some good advice.

--Try to teach yourself new software applications. Practice on Power Point or learn how to use Excel (spreadsheets) or teach yourself the basics of creating and using a database.

--Look to work in different areas. If a department is short staffed and you're low on work, see if you can devote a certain percentage of your time to working with that other group. This will expose you to other work and could lead to new or improved job skills. It will also show your manager that you've taken proactive steps to stay busy/billable and to remain productive.

--If it's not in the company budget to go to training, consider out-of-pocket costs for learning some new skills. It would be a great personal investment in your professional life.

--Don't miss deadlines!

--Don't start trouble/drama and don't let yourself be pulled into it!

--Don't get caught constantly chatting at the water cooler or in the hallways!

--Try not to call out from work! If you aren't half dead, get your butt to work and find a way to be productive!

--Show up to work on time!

--Come back from lunch on time! Don't abuse your lunch break during a recession. It's one thing to be five minutes late back from lunch, but 15-30 minutes late--on a regular basis--is unacceptable.

Do everything you can to keep your job and hopefully the economy will bounce back soon!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Question for Readers

Racial epithets? Racist drawings? Called the n-word? Denied workplace opportunities? Rampant stereotyping?

What has been your biggest battle or craziest experience with workplace racism?

Post a comment (anonymous is fine). I'll share some of your experiences on the main page in the near future.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Punctuality and Attendance

Just had a young lady fired at my job because of chronic lateness and an overabundance of absences. Unfortunately, far too many others have shared her fate. When I think of other jobs I've had, it prompted me to write a post about punctuality and attendance.

Now, let me make it clear, this post is NOT about legitimate use of sick and vacation leave. I'm talking about dipping and diving out of the office--just because.

I've had many coworkers, especially young coworkers, deal with issues related to punctuality AND attendance. You didn't know when they would show up for work, if at all. And, you could pretty much count on them to tip out of the office before their official schedule was completed. I've had coworkers, who never learned, as they aged, that this isn't acceptable behavior.

As you progress through the workplace and, hopefully, take on more responsibility and take your job as seriously as a heart attack, you start to realize that staff who are chronically late and/or are chronically absent can create some real BUSINESS-RELATED issues at work. It really can be a legitimate concern, depending on how much you are abusing the time and attendance aspect of your job performance.

Dependabilty, reliability, consistency, whatever you want to call it are part of the way we are all judged at work. So, that's why time and attendance can create so many problems for folks.

And, if you are dealing with race-related issues at work, time and attendance is an easy place to set yourself up for problems. You will surely hear about this on mid-year and/or year-end reviews and you might receive oral and written warnings regarding time and attendance.

I would caution everyone not to automatically accuse a manager of being racist if you were rightfully called out for dipping and diving. We all have to take personal responsibility and hold ourselves to the standards set out for all staff. If there are disparities in the way staff are treated based on race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., then, of course, the anti-discrimination laws will be relevant. But, you can't just go there to deflect accountability for poor attendance records.

To all my young brothers and sisters reading this. Get your behind to work. On time. On the days you're scheduled. And, leave at the time you're scheduled to leave.

Don't jeopardize your job and livelihood based on time and attendance problems. Even if you feel you are young, can easily get another job, are not working in the career you want to have in the future, and/or you are in school and don't give a crap about your employer, you should teach yourself the necessary skills to thrive. You should teach yourself positive habits that will help you excel and will put you in the mode of not giving people ammunition to use against you.

Show up on time and work hard. Let your performance be your calling card.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


If you are under attack at work, it’s critical that you have a complete and thorough record of every action taken against you by a supervisor, manager, coworkers or your employers--as a whole. You should also have a record of performance evaluations and other performance-related feedback, policies contained in the personnel manual, and other information.

When it comes to compiling evidence that supports your claims of workplace mistreatment and abuse, you should think in terms of direct vs. circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is the best evidence to have because it is the most blatant and undeniable form of proof. An example of direct evidence is being told that you are not being promoted because you are Black or having your boss give you a memo stating that you won’t be given an opportunity to manage other staff because of your race. Direct evidence involves someone making it blatantly clear that your race is one of the factors or the sole factor in how they are treating you in the workplace.

Most people are too savvy to provide a target with direct evidence of discrimination, harassment or retaliation. But, it does happen. More often than not, a racist will simply find other ways to hide the racially motivated reasons for their actions. For that reason, it’s more likely that you will have circumstantial evidence of race-related discrimination, harassment, retaliation, etc.

Let’s look at how you might prove a circumstantial case of retaliation (retaliation for complaining about race-based abuses at work). According to the EEOC, a violation is established if there is circumstantial evidence raising an inference of retaliation, if your employer fails to produce evidence of a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the challenged action (firing, demotions, suspension, transfer to a hard to reach location, being stripped of assignments, harassment, retaliation, etc.) or if the reason provided by your employer is simply a pretext to hide the retaliatory motive.

If you file a complaint against your employer, internally or externally, alleging discriminatory practices, retaliation, etc. and you suddenly become targeted with adverse actions like increased surveillance and heightened scrutiny, unjustified negative performance evaluations, denial of a promotion, suspension or other negative actions, you can link the timing of when you filed your complaint with the onslaught of abuse by your supervisor, coworker or employer.

Circumstantial evidence can come in many forms, but as you gather information that proves your point/position, you also want to collect evidence that disproves/refutes the case being made by your employer. Your employer has likely given you reasons for taking certain actions with regard to your employment. For instance, unjustly demoting you, denying you a promotion or firing you. You need to show that the reasons given by your employer are nothing but a pretext/excuse to hide their true motives, which you believe are racially-based.

You need to do two things: (1) Prove your case with an avalanche of circumstantial evidence or direct evidence; and (2) Prove that the justification provided by your employer is nothing more than a misrepresentation of facts and/or outright lies to hide their race-related motivations!

You have to be strategic. You have to think about all of the evidence that would prove, to a complete stranger, that your position is valid. Pretend that you will have to speak to a two-year old. Don’t assume someone is going to have an instant understanding of your position. Keep your arguments simple and break down all of the relevant points.

Remember, you are looking to highlight actions that directly or indirectly show potentially illegal mistreatment. Keep the word "inference" in mind because circumstantial evidence provides an inference of illegal behavior.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Word on Interviews and Drug Tests

We've got a lot on our table, as a country. But, I think we all realize that the economy is the major problem right now. As the recession has hit, we've seen more and more people continue to lose their jobs. In addition to having a problem with massive unemployment, we're dealing with many people who are underemployed. Underemployed is when you have folks who are working part-time/a few days a week, when what they need and are looking for is full-time work.

I was having a conversation with a friend and heard a story that reminded me of my days in Human Resources. We were talking about the drug test that applicants must take before being hired. Now, let me start by saying that this post IN NO WAY IMPLIES THAT ONLY BLACKS FAIL PRE-EMPLOYMENT DRUG TESTS. However, this blog is targeted to Blacks in the workplace. So, that's the focus.

Now, my friend and I were talking about two Black workers who were the top candidates for a government job. The drug test they needed to take did not involve urine, but a hair sample. When the Black female applicant was asked to take the drug test, she excused herself from the room--NEVER to return. You see, she was prepared for a urine test because she apparently took some pills that were supposed to clean the marijuana from her system, so she could pass a drug test. She wasn't prepared to give a hair sample.

The other person, a Black male, suddenly lost all sense of professionalism and said to his Black, female interviewer(and I'm paraphrasing), "I'll be honest, Sis, I don't think I'm gonna pass this drug test. Can't you hook a ni**er up and give me a little of your hair!"

Of course, the interviewer was shocked and horrified! She asked if he wanted her to commit fraud and asked him how it was plausible that she would give her hair sample to him, especially considering her hair sample was already on file. She was completely disgusted by the time she dismissed him from the interview.

Now, these are two very recent examples of Black folks screwing up their ability to get a job because they were determined to smoke weed and/or partake in other drugs, when they KNEW THEY WERE ACTIVELY LOOKING FOR WORK.

Here's the point of this post. If you can't stop smoking blunts or anything else, while you are struggling to get a job DURING A RECESSION, then you've got some serious issues.

These two stories are not isolated incidents. Working in HR, I can tell you that these tales are not uncommon and become fodder for laughs in the office. We'd send someone out for a drug test and they'd never show up at the facility to be screened. The Black staff couldn't figure out what the heck is wrong with some of our people. We wondered why they even showed up for an interview, knowing they couldn't pass a drug test. Why waste our time? Why waste their own? Obviously, they weren't serious in their efforts to get a job. They knew they were sending out applications, yet they continued to use drugs.

On top of letting yourself down, think about the fact that you are perpetuating stereotypes of Black people as being prone to abuse drugs. When some of us walk into these interviews and start cutting up and acting a fool, when the subject of a drug test comes up, it's often not looked at as an isolated incident. It is sometimes looked at as a pattern of behavior by Black people.

So, think about the fact that in a diverse society--still struggling with racial stereotypes and biases--you are impacting the lives and opportunities of others.

If you don't care about that, you should care enough about yourself and your livelihood to get your priorties straight. Conduct yourself with respect. You should care about your reputation.

More importantly, you should remember that the world is getting smaller and smaller. Everyone is competing against growing numbers of applicants for jobs. Additionally, you don't know who you will run into at a company or in the hiring manager's office.

If you truly want to get work, you've got to be able to pass the easiest portion of the pre-employment process. If you are not an addict, you should not have a problem with a drug screening. If you feel that you have the "screw it" attitude and are going to do what you want, don't even send out applications. Save yourself some embarassment and car fare/gas.

To all other serious job applicants, I wish you good luck out there. Enough said!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Qualified Enough to Train Other Workers, But Not To Get The Promotion

One of the most common complaints I’ve heard from Black workers, over the years, is that they’ve felt used and abused by companies that requested (read: forced) them to train White coworkers, who eventually were promoted to a higher level position than the Black person that taught them everything that made them valuable.

How many of us haven’t been put in the position where we were asked to train a White counterpart, to train a White person that was junior to us or even to train a White person with a more advanced degree than we possessed? And, how often did the White person you train end up getting a promotion that you weren’t even considered for? Or, maybe they got a substantial raise based on their newly acquired skills.

It’s one of the oldest workplace racism games in the book…marginalize and overlook Black workers until an up-and-coming White employee of the day needs a few more skills to justify a preconceived plan to advance them through the ranks of the company.

Nothing hurts more than seeing someone else rewarded for your skills and knowledge. Nothing…EXCEPT… receiving a poor performance evaluation and STILL being asked to train White coworkers.

Years ago, I received a fraudulent performance evaluation from a White manager who wasn’t even my direct supervisor. I never worked with this man and I barely interacted with him. YET, he threw out my supervisor’s performance evaluation for me and submitted his own—completely trashing my work performance and the quality of my finished products. He recommended I only receive a $200 yearly increase because my performance was “horrible.” He said that he considered not giving me an increase at all.

BUT, he turned around and asked me to train two White new hires. And, he wanted me to create procedures for everything I did. I looked at this fool and said, “Absolutely not!” He turned red. I didn’t care. I asked him, after the horrible performance review that HE had just submitted for me, if it was appropriate that I pass along my poor work habits and other issues to new staff. I also asked him why I, who he stated really didn’t know what I was doing, would possibly write procedures. Clearly, I didn’t know any procedures. If I did, I would have been far more successful at completing my work—which he said I wasn’t. I told him I would not be comfortable training anyone under those circumstances. I suggested he find someone, with skills he approved of, to train the new hires. Well, HE WAS TRAPPED. After a recent resignation, no one else in the company performed the job function that I was doing.

Long story short, he rewrote and resubmitted my performance evaluation. And, he gave me a significant increase. There was never an issue with my work. It was just the oldest game in the book…marginalize and overlook a Black person and use them to build up the skills of White underlings.

I’m at the point in my career where I refuse to be used. It’s one thing to be a team player and it’s another to set yourself to be passed over. If you are asked to train individuals…ask to be officially referred to as a mentor or trainer. Make sure any training you do is included in your reviews. If you have to write a self-assessment during your performance period, list every staff person you trained and what you taught them.

And, if you are being asked to train what you feel is going to be your replacement (I know you know that trick), simply refuse to do so. If you’ve been given negative feedback, as happened to me, talk to your manager. Tell them that you feel you are receiving mixed signals and you would like to know where you stand. Get a formal declaration of any intent to replace you or not. It doesn’t mean the company can’t fire you, but if they’ve stated your job was secure—and then fired you—it provides you with more ammunition to use in a potential case.

Remember, if an employer is having problems with an employee, the employer is supposed to make the employee aware of the issues, state possible remedies (such as training, etc.), and put the employee on a verbal or written warning or on probation. Unless you’ve committed some outlandish action, you are supposed to be given the opportunity to change your behavior and to keep your job.

When it comes to training, also try to figure out what’s going on. If the person you are being asked to train is in line to compete with you for promotions, don’t train them (if you can get out of it) and NEVER teach them everything you know (if you can’t)!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Intersectional Discrimination: Black, Female Caregivers

According to the EEOC, caregiving responsibilities disproportionately affect working women and their effects may be even more pronounced among some women of color, particularly African American women, who have a long history of working outside the home.

African American mothers with young children are more likely to be employed than other women raising young children, and both African American and Hispanic women are more likely to be raising children in a single-parent household than are White or Asian American women. Women of color also may devote more time to caring for extended family members, including both grandchildren and elderly relatives, than do their White counterparts.

Sure, discrimination against caregivers is a problem that can impact anyone in the workplace, male or female. But, it represents a particular issue for Black, female caregivers. In fact, caregiver discrimination against a Black worker (or Hispanic, etc.) might be compounded by other forms of discrimination such as race, color, gender, etc.

For instance, A Black, female worker, who is a single parent/caregiver may be discriminated against because of stereotypes about working mothers or single parents. AND, she may also be discriminated against because her supervisor has racist beliefs and/or stereotypes about Blacks and women.

Women of color also may be subjected to intersectional discrimination that is specifically directed toward women of a particular race or ethnicity, rather than toward all women, resulting, for example, in less favorable treatment of an African American working mother than her White counterpart.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination not just because of one protected trait (e.g., race), but also because of the intersection of two or more protected bases (e.g., race and sex). For example, Title VII prohibits discrimination against African American women even if the employer does not discriminate against White women or African American men. The law also prohibits individuals from being subjected to discrimination because of the intersection of their race and a trait covered by another EEO statute – e.g., race and disability, or race and age.

If you suspect that you are the victim of caregiver discrimination and/or intersectional discrimination (e.g., a Black, female caregiver), you should report your suspicions to someone in authority at your organization or to Human Resources. Or, you can file a complaint with an outside agency like EEOC or the Office of Human Rights or you can seek the counsel of an attorney.

Sources: http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/caregiving.html#discrwomen and http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/race-color.html#IVC

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dealing with Bullying Behavior

I was speaking to someone, who asked what to do when dealing with bullying at work. One of the first things I mentioned is that bullying should be referred to as being part of a hostile work environment, since bullying isn't always actionable in many states. Bullying behavior and a hostile work environment can come in many forms, depending on the people involved in commiting the abuse.

The following are some considerations and suggestions:

1) Always document acts of bullying and anything that creates a hostile environment at work. This includes behavior such as a harasser: making unwarrented written and verbal threats to your job, false allegations about your work performance, personal/personality based attacks, blaming you for problems caused by the harasser or other staff, hostile and offensive emails and voice messages, the use of racial slurs and epithets, pointing in your face, screaming at you, intentionally humiliating you in front of coworkers and/or clients, standing in your personal space to make you uncomfortable and to intimidate you, intentionally bumping into you or engaging in other physical contact as a means of abusing and intimidating you, stare down contests, malicious gossip spread around the office, your personal information being shared with coworkers, refusing to answer your emails and voicemails, omitting instructions needed to complete assignments, malicious performance evaluations, always speaking to you with the person's back turned to you/refusing to acknowlege you and look you in the eyes, placing the soles of the shoes towards you (pointed at your face) on a desk/table, you, etc.

2) Ask the person to stop the behavior. Speak to them face-to-face to initially address such a sensitive issue. Your employer could later say that you over-rely on email and may use that to twist what is happening as a negative against you and not your harasser. Give specific examples of bullying and hostile behavior and talk about how that impacts your work environment and/or work production. Talk about how you can better work together and communicate in order to put in a good faith effort to fix the problem.

3) Make a note of the face-to-face meeting, including quotes from your harasser and details of their response. Note any promises they made or any threats relayed.

4) If the problems continue, make future contact via email to get written documentation. Note specific problems with the behavior and the impact on you--professionally and personally. Keep the email professional. Strip out any emotional language, which can be used against you later to label you as overly sensitive and/or childish.

5) Keep a list of people who've witnessed bullying and hostile behavior. Write down what they've seen, the date, time, etc. Save hostile and offensive emails (electronic and hard copy) and nasty voice messages. Save your time sheets and any instructions you receive from a harasser. You might need these later to refute false allegations, etc.

6) Report the abuse to your supervisor and/or HR. Consider speaking to your harasser's supervisor.Request that they intervene in the situation. Make a note of the date/time of the meeting(s) and any promises made to fix the problems, including next steps (additional meetings, investigation, etc.)

7) Follow-up with the supervisor(s) and/or HR, if you don't hear back from them or see results from their attempt to prevent abusive behavior. Follow-up verbally and in writing to document the conversation.

8) Consider filing a formal internal complaint against the individual/request an internal investigation.

9) If the problem persists, consider filing an external complaint (e.g., EEOC) or seeking legal counsel.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Deprived of the Opportunity for Success

A friend of mine (Black) was a manager at our company. She went from having a diverse department of subordinates to being placed in a position where she only supervised Black junior level staff. This was not of her doing. The director of her department and our Human Resources manager simply began to make personnel decisions that resulted in all of the staff in this support division being African American.

Regardless of the racial makeup of her staff, this manager always pushed her subordinates to learn new skills and to increase their knowledge about their jobs. She conducted lunch-time trainings, brought in other staff to conduct informal trainings, and passed on information about other training opportunities.

Whenever possible, she ensured that her subordinates performed some work that was typical of the work being performed in positions that were one grade higher than her subordinates. By doing so, she took away the argument that her staff had not shown they were capable of performing higher levels of work and she made her staff more competitive for future promotion opportunities by improving their knowledge and skill sets.

Her approach to managing her staff wasn’t appreciated by our employers. In fact, during conversations about her encouraging staff to look into opportunities to advance, this Black manager was told, “You know, some people like to be in the same job for 20 years.” She was also told that she shouldn’t “push” her Black subordinates to want to excel or move up within the ranks of their department. Finally, she was told that the only reason these Black workers had any thoughts about being promoted was because she was putting the idea in their heads.

This manager was told to back off of encouraging her staff to excel and advance.

The manager’s response was that she would be negligent in her job as a manager if she didn’t train her staff, didn’t expose them to more advanced work, didn’t help them improve their knowledge of their job and field, and didn’t encourage them to seek advancement opportunities.

Although she was told that the ideas her subordinates had about promotions weren’t her problem, the legal decision in Bryson vs. Chicago State University supports her management style and the encouragement she provided her employees. The 1996 decision of the 7th Circuit court specifically reasoned:

“Depriving someone of the building blocks for…a promotion…is just as serious as depriving her of the job itself.”

If you are working in a job where you aren’t being provided with the basics that would lead to a promotion, you can legitimately raise serious concerns about the lack of opportunities and training at your job.

Don’t be afraid to express your desire to learn more about your job and to seek out future advancement opportunities. More employees than not want exactly the same thing—to be promoted, to receive significant pay raises, and to have a livelihood that their families can depend on.

If you are not getting access to those building blocks, speak to your supervisor and/or manager and let it be known that you have a desire to learn more. State that you would like to know about in-house and outside training opportunities and that you would like more exposure to different skills sets within your position. If you are not given reasonable answers regarding obtaining these basic building blocks, you should consider speaking to another authority within your department or to an HR representation.

It’s your career, so you should be proactive if you aren’t seeing the opportunities you want and are entitled to at work. Show initiative and find out what you need to do to get to the next levels of your career path. You are entitled to desire success!

And, you are entitled to the workplace building blocks that will help you succeed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Substantiate Your Case

If you're having race-related issues on the job, one of the main things you need to focus on is establishing corroboration of the events you are alleging are taking place on your job. What does that mean?

It means that you want to avoid a he said/she said incident on your job. You want to start identifying witnesses and collecting evidence.

Identify witnesses!

Who heard or saw an incident that you are complaining about?
Who did you report abusive behavior or harassment to?
Who did you share stories of your abuse with?

Provide supporting documentation and physical evidence!

Obtain written evidence, charts, instructions, etc. that support/corroborate your versions of events. Evidence might include timesheets, organizational or departmental charts, writtten instructions, offensive or harassing emails, malicious performance evaluations, written documentation falsely accusing you of work-related, behavioral or personality deficiencies, written statements from witnesses, etc.

-- Label your evidence in order to make sure that a 3rd party understands the relevance of each item being submitted as proof of workplace abuses!

You can’t assume that someone will look through your evidence and draw all of the proper and important conclusions that you feel support your case. Therefore, it’s important to label your evidence in way that will allow an investigator or lawyer to quickly understand why you have included each piece of evidence in your case file. An effective way to do this is to create labels that you can attach to the front or back of each item, which provides a description of the significance of the evidence.

You can label each piece of evidence with a brief statement about the relevance of the item and why the documentation is important. I recommend typing up an explanation of your evidence using the label making function of your computer software program. Then, simply print the information on a peel and stick label that can physically be attached to the front or back of your evidence.

Large shipping labels provide a substantial amount of space to make your notations. Be sure to include your name, case number (if you’ve been assigned one), and to number/catalogue each item being presented, in case your evidence becomes separated from your overall complaint.

As much as possible, include your evidence in chronological/date order, unless you feel there is another way of compiling your evidence that makes more sense. For example, you may decide that you want to group emails together, memos and other documentation in another section, etc. If your evidence is broken into sections, label your evidence appropriately.

For example, Item #1, Section A – Harassing and Offensive Emails or Item #1, Section B – Threats to My Job Security, Item #1, Section C – Tangible Employment Actions (Proof of Demotion Without Basis, Proof of Being Denied a Promotion for Discriminatory Motives, etc. ). Always include the impact/relevance of the evidence on the label.

Remember, your credibility is being judged. You have to prove your case. In order to do that you must submit facts/evidence and you must show that any arguments presented by your employer are untrue, misleading or irrelevant to the issues you encountered at work.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Find Out About Similar Incidences of Misconduct

CREATE A SIMILAR INCIDENCES LOG – If you are being subjected to racially-based mistreatment, you should do your best to find out if your harasser or tormentor has had similar encounters with other minority employees. If a pattern of negative behavior exists, you should demonstrate that this PATTERN OF PRIOR BAD ACTS has not been adequately addressed by your employer.

For instance, if your employer has received numerous complaints from a variety of minority employers about racially-based harassment by a particular supervisor, you should definitely make note of this pattern on your log.

Find out as much specific information as you can and highlight all of the similarities with your case. Be sure to note what action, if any, was taken by your employer based on a problem pattern of behavior.

The fact that your employer may have chosen to ignore racially-based complaints could bolster your case and demonstrate that your employer has a tolerance for racial bullying, discrimination, harassment or retaliation.

List a description of the incident(s), names and races of employees and witnesses, any actions taken by a supervisor, manager or the company, as a whole, and the date of the incident(s).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Fairness" In the Workplace

I don’t know what it is about some of us Black folks, but we have this amazing ability to forgive people that have done absolutely horrible things to us. I don’t just mean in recent history. I am also talking about historically. I am often still amazed at how Blacks—today—have been able to find a way to get along with the descendants of their enslavers—many of whom still share abhorrently racist views and attitudes about the capacity and basic humanity of our race. But, many Blacks still often manage to cope and overcome the institution and legacy of slavery and racism in America.

Perhaps at the root of our ability to be a fair and to forgive is that our people have gone through such extreme suffering on the plantations of America. Maybe that extreme suffering has translated into an almost hyper-compassion for anyone that we perceive as also suffering. Perhaps our ability to be fair and to forgive egregious horrors is due to experience with retaliation from the White majority. Post-slavery retaliation against Blacks, for fighting for and demanding basic human/civil rights still occurs today. It just happens more covertly.

Regardless of the reason for the Black ability be fair and to forgive, fairness and can ultimately lead to our continued battles against racism in the workplace. Sometimes, Blacks are too willing to let someone take back a racial slur or repeated racial slurs that happen on the job. Sometimes, Blacks are too willing to walk away from someone making racist comments and promoting stereotyping on the job. Sometimes, Blacks are too willing to ignore the actions of a racist coworker or supervisor—even when those actions are destroying our careers, promotion opportunities, and salary increases.

Here’s a scenario: A White, female worker makes a very racist comment to a Black female coworker about Black culture. This isn’t the first time the White worker has made this kind of negative comment. Well, the Black worker has finally had enough and confronts the White worker. The Black worker says she’s not going to tolerate the remarks anymore and that she’s going to management. So, the White worker begins crying and says that she didn’t realize the Black worker took the comments “like that.” She stresses that she was only joking and, when she wasn’t joking, she was truly just trying to get a better understanding of Black people. She swears that she’ll never make that kind of remark again. And…

Lo and behold…

The Black worker starts to soften. After all, the White worker is crying and she looks sincere enough. She seems truly apologetic. So, the Black worker lets things slide. She says she won’t go to management about the issue. She decides that she’s going to be fair. As a matter of fact, she’s going to be a true Christian. She’s going to give the White worker another chance. That would be fair. And…

Lo and behold…

The same white worker makes a similar comment to the Black woman—2 months later. It took some time. But, she went right back to old habits and her true nature.

Many Blacks like to pat ourselves on the backs and praise ourselves for being fair and for overlooking the negative behavior of the racists we work with. We’ll say, “Girl, I just ignore her. I don’t pay her any mind. That’s how she is.”

Some Black workers can be racially attacked on the job and then sit there and worry about complaining about the White worker because they don’t want to see anyone lose their job/be fired. Because far too many Black workers are often too busy thinking about being fair and extending an olive branch to someone to worry about their own career. I’ve heard people say, “I’d feel guilty, if she got fired!” Are you kidding me? If someone’s behavior warrants termination, let them have at it! Let them get the result they worked so hard for. Who are you to deny them their just reward? Who are you to condemn other Blacks to continue to work with an abomination?

But, no. Many Blacks will say we’re going to be the bigger person or a “Christian.” But, the reality is that the same White person that you extend forgiveness to after they “jokingly” calling you a monkey is the same White person that will make the comment again in the future. It’s the same White person that will feel they can escalate their offensive language.

The same White person that you extend forgiveness to and try to be fair with after they lie about your work ethic and job performance to your supervisor—strictly based on their racist instincts and not fact—is the same White person that will engage in this behavior in the future. If they don’t target YOU again…they will target another Black person or other minority.

The same racist person that you extend forgiveness to and try to be fair with after they deny you a promotion—without basis and based on your race and not your job performance—is the same White person that will refuse to promote you next year. This same racist person will also refuse to promote other Blacks or minorities.

Yet, far too many Blacks will continue to use the word “fair” to describe why we ignore racist behavior and actions in the workplace—even those that truly impact our careers in a negative manner.

When you extend forgiveness, you would and should expect that you are dealing with a person that is grateful to have received the opportunity to be forgiven. However, in the workplace, gratitude isn’t often the end result of letting someone remain unaccountable for their racist words and/or actions. Most people don’t learn a life lesson on the first try. Many people have to repeat their mistakes before they finally get it and make a behavioral change.

So, here are some questions about being fair with others in the workplace:

--How is it fair to continually overlook behavior that is hurting you, while it empowers your attacker?

--How is it fair to allow someone to engage in behavior that demoralizes you and makes you hate being in their company or going to work?

--What exactly are Blacks in the workplace seeking, when they are claiming they are only trying to be “fair” or “a bigger person” or a “Christian,” when they ignore or accept the fake apologies of on-the-job racists?

--Is the label “fair” simply a way to shirk the responsibility of following through with putting a stop to racist behavior at work?

--Is the label “fair” designed to avoid retaliation from the White worker in question or Whites at the company—as a whole?

--Is it fair to have false critiques placed in your employee review, simply because of your race? Is it fair to be denied a promotion simply because of your race? Etc.

Last, but not least…

When is it less important to be fair and more important to hang someone with the same rope they laid out for you?! The racist often takes advantage of a Black worker attempting to seek the higher ground. The racist often counts on not being confronted or challenged about their behavior. The racist is calculating. A racist will think about their chances of getting away with their behavior. That’s why they will often use covert language or tactics. I had a post, last year, where a White manager used a code word around a Black worker to refer to her a ni**er. So, yes, a lot of thought often goes into getting away with racism at work.

At some point, Black workers need to stop trying to be so damn fair and forgiving and need to start going on the offensive. Only by having a zero tolerance attitude for racist comments and behavior that creates a hostile or offensive work environment or negatively impacts our careers (e.g., promotions, etc.) will Blacks be able to confront racism and to truly provoke continued change in the our workplaces around the country.

By the way, you can be a Christian, while reporting a racist supervisor to Human Resources. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently! You can forgive and fight for your human/workplace rights at the same time.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Create a Log to Track the Behavior of a Rude and Offensive Supervisor or Coworker

There are some people in the workplace, who become absolute nightmares whenever they are stressed out by deadlines or other work or professional issues. When they’re not stressed out and frustrated, they may be great to work with. But, when they are feeling any kind of pressure, they may become demanding, demeaning, bullying, etc. in how they interact with everyone around them. These people make it seem as though you are working with a Jekyll and Hyde type character. While these people are difficult to work with, at least they are only problematic on a part-time basis.

Unfortunately, there are some people in the workplace, who are venomous and nasty all of the time. They like to be sharp-tongued, sarcastic and offensive just for the hell of abusing their coworkers or subordinates. If they are racist, then they are likely going out of their way to abuse members of other races. Working with these people is absolutely demoralizing. Just seeing them approach can make your stomach flutter with nervous anticipation of problems interacting with them.

Regardless of whether or not you are dealing with part-time or full-time abuse at work, you have to make sure to document everything that’s going on. Even if you want to try to be the so-called bigger person in the situation or you are fearful of making a complaint for fear of looking like a whiner or out of fear of retaliation, you may change your mind at some point and want to make an official complaint to a supervisor or to Human Resources.

Once you know you are dealing with someone who intentionally or unintentionally shows they have no self-control, self-censorship, compassion, empathy or professionalism, you should immediately begin documenting this individual—even if it is a supervisor or someone else in authority. Remember, as you are documenting the individual, you should also be making them aware that you find their behavior to be rude and hostile and you should inform them that their method of communication does not work well with you.

You can ask if you can meet face-to-face to talk about how you can work better together and to come to some understanding. But, again, you should be documenting the person despite any efforts to correct the problem without managerial intervention.

You can document inappropriate and offensive behavior by creating a log/tracking sheet to document any incidents of abusive, hostile, harassing or retaliatory actions from the person. This might include threats to your job or threats of physical violence, having papers or other items thrown at you, being subjecting to name-calling or racial epithets, being screamed at privately or in front of coworkers, being given menial assignments, etc. All of this negative and potentially illegal behavior should be tracked.

On top of logging incidents with this person, you should also keep a list of witnesses. These witnesses can confirm your version of events to management or Human Resources. This will provide you with credibility about your complaints and will demonstrate to management that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. When compiling a list of witnesses, also keep track of the specific incidences that each person witnessed. By tracking witnesses with incidences, you will diminish any confusion at a later time and you will make it easier for an internal or external investigator to proceed with their questioning and to come to an understanding of what’s been transpiring at work.

You must also keep electronic and hard copies of rude, offensive, and hostile emails or other written correspondence with this person. Save the electronic files and forward them to your personal email accounts online (e.g., an AOL or Yahoo! or Google email account). You can also forward rude and offensive emails to the individual’s supervisor or manager raising the issue about the lack of professionalism being displayed and pointing out the hostile/harassing tone of the communication. Ask for the supervisor to address the issue with their subordinate. Make sure they understand that you will make a complaint to Human Resources, if nothing is done.

Another thing you can do is to save rude, offensive, and hostile voice mail messages. Never delete these messages. Better yet, use a tape recorder to record the message, in case someone else inadvertently deletes the message for you. You would not believe how corporate spies will rummage through your office on company orders. I’ve had it done to me and have seen this done to a coworker. Files in my office were moved, items on my desk were examined, contents of my drawers weren’t as I left them, etc. Always assume that someone might destroy your evidence and consider ways to preserve any key evidence you might need at a later time.

If the person is refusing to correct their behavior, despite your requests, seek out their supervisor and have a discussion—if you haven’t already done so. Present your evidence and state unequivocally that you won’t tolerate the abuse any longer. Ask the person what they plan to put an end to the abuse. If after a short time, nothing changes, contact Human Resources—or you can do this jointly with speaking to the supervisor. If your supervisor or manager is the perpetrator of the abuse, contact Human Resources or your supervisor’s supervisor/manager. If your supervisor is your abuser, you don’t have to notify your supervisor about your official complaint because the law recognizes the conflict with that scenario and does not force employees to report abuse and harassment to the abuser and harasser.

The nuclear option is reporting potentially illegal abuse to the EEOC, the Office of Human Rights or some other fair practice employment agency.

Remember, you do not have to subject yourself to abuse and harassment at work. Regardless of how well you are being paid, a hostile work environment is NEVER part of the deal!

Friday, March 06, 2009


The Legal Brief gives everyone an idea of some of the types of cases that EEOC litigates, provides information on anti-discrimination legal proceedings/court rulings, and identifies some of the specific race-based issues that other Blacks have faced and challenged in the workplace. The Legal Brief also provides insight into the arguments presented by EEOC and the defenses offered by employers. This information may be helpful to workers, who may be considering filing a complaint or seeking legal counsel, as well as to employees who feel they are becoming embroiled in race-related issues at work.

I think this legal brief is especially important considering the current recession and uncertainty about the future of our economy. Many employers will have to continue to make tough decisions about layoffs. Unfortunately, some employers will make those decisions based on racial biases. They may decide and prefer to retain and/or hire white employees, while getting rid of Black workers in their ranks.


Clifton Store Unlawfully Fired Only High-Level African American Manager, EEOC Charged

NEWARK, N.J. – Shopper’s Vineyard, a wine and liquor store in Clifton, N.J., agreed to pay $60,000 and provide substantial injunctive relief to settle a race discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced on March 4th.

The EEOC said in its lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey (Civil Action No. 08-cv-1234 [DMC]), that Bertram Irving of Passaic, N.J., was the only African American front-line manager at the Clifton store. Shopper’s Vineyard told Irving in 2006 that he was being laid off because of economic reasons, but according to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Irving was actually laid off because of his race. Shopper’s Vineyard retained white managers with less tenure and experience and hired many new employees, including four new white managers, within the year after Irving was laid off, the suit charged. Race discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The five-year consent decree settling the case requires Shopper’s Vineyard to pay $60,000 to Irving and institute new anti-discrimination policies and procedures. The store will appoint an equal employment opportunity coordinator to insure compliance with Title VII and other anti-discrimination statutes; train managers regarding Title VII requirements on a regular basis; post a notice to employees at the store about the decree; and provide reports to the EEOC and permit the EEOC to monitor its compliance with the decree.

“It is important given today’s economic climate that employers remember that one of the central goals of Title VII is to prevent racially motivated employment decisions,” said Spencer H. Lewis, director of the EEOC’s New York District. “When making layoff decisions, employers must make sure they are complying with laws that prohibit discrimination.”

Jeffrey Burstein, the EEOC’s trial attorney who litigated the case, added, “The EEOC is committed to the elimination of racial discrimination in the workplace, as evidenced by our vigorous efforts on behalf of thousands of discrimination victims like this every year.”

The EEOC is the federal government agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimin­ation laws in the workplace. Further information about EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Segregation and Classification

According to the EEOC, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is violated where employees who belong to a protected group are segregated by physically isolating them from other employees or from customer contact. In addition, employers may not assign employees according to race or color.

For example, Title VII prohibits assigning primarily African-Americans to predominantly African-American establishments or geographic areas. It is also illegal to exclude members of one group from particular positions or to group or categorize employees or jobs so that certain jobs are generally held by members of a certain protected group. Coding applications/resumes to designate an applicant's race, by either an employer or employment agency, constitutes evidence of discrimination where people of a certain race or color are excluded from employment or from certain positions.

I’ve previously written about one job I had, where Black workers were routinely excluded from direct client contact. White managers, mid-level staff, and junior staff would normally attend the meetings with our government clients. After all of the strategy sessions were done, Black employees would be invited to participate—on conference calls. We were kept out of sight like some dirty secret.

It got so bad, that one government contracting officer asked the President and CEO of our company where the Black employees were. Word got around the office that this high-ranking official went off in a face-to-face meeting with our CEO. She said that she and other contracting officers noticed they were only meeting White employees. She said that the government was using taxpayer funds and she expected diversity. She also said that she wanted to make sure that Black and minority workers were being assigned to work on the tasks—African American and “mainstream” assignments. The contracting officer declared an expectation that minorities not just perform administrative work, but ACTUAL PROJECT WORK. She was not looking for tokens, but Black workers represented across spectrum of assigned positions.

So, my employer held one of her “dog and pony shows.” Except, this time, she was showing off the Black and minority workers. The CEO took these government clients around our office building—only stopping at the offices of Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian employees. This was the first time many of us were introduced to our clients. We'd never seen any of these people and our contracts had been going on for years!

Another example of segregation is that some Black employees are segregated to only work on Black projects. I had a coworker, a researcher, who was only assigned to conduct research, when the interviewees were Black. This was the tactic used by a director and a mid-level manager in another department. They refused to assign her to interview Whites, Hispanics, etc.

Another issue, at some companies, is that Black workers end up in the lowest level administrative staff positions and with the lowest salaries. This can represent a segregation and classification issue because it is not inherently plausible that only Blacks are capable of working in the lowest level jobs at a company.

Finally, you can have Black and other minority workers segregated and isolated to work at specific locations that are out of sight or are hard-to-reach. For instance, an employer may have Blacks and/or Hispanics as the only workers in a warehouse--overseen by a White management--while White workers hold all or nearly all of the office jobs associated with the same company.

What can you do?

Take a look at the positions and staffing at your job. Who is working on what? What are the titles, job levels, and classifications of those workers? Do workers seem to be pigeon-holed and/or assigned based on race? Are workers segregated in the office or isolated at certain job locations based on race?

If you suspect a segregation and classification issue, begin to compile documentation that can support your position. If your company distributes employees lists and other demographic charts, mark them up to reflect the issues you see.

Talk to other employees to see if they also notice the issue and view it as a problem. If a group of employees want to address the issue, do so as a group. Speak to someone in HR about the issue. It’s best to go in mass regarding issues like this. But, if you have to fly solo, make sure you have all the facts and can prove your point.

Build a circumstantial of race-based segregation and classifical case that is sound and easy to understand. Gather organizational charts and anything else that will demonstrate a need for investigation and change.

Source: http://www.eeoc.gov/types/race.html

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Hostile Work Environment/Unwelcome Conduct

All employees are entitled to a workplace that is free from racial discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation. Although there isn’t any complete list of behaviors that would constitute a hostile work environment, a hostile environment might be seen at a workplace where:

--an employee is set up for failure by being intentionally denied the tools they need to successfully complete a task or where obstacles to completing assignments are maliciously applied to hinder a successful outcome;

--an employee is subjected to racial slurs and/or epithets;

--an employee is subjected to threats of physical violence or threats to their job/employment;

--an employee is subjected to stare down contests or has their physical boundaries encroached upon as a method of intimidation and to create an uncomfortable environment;

--an employee is subjected to false and malicious allegations of poor performance;

--an employee is punished for errors committed by other staff; and/or

--an employee is forced to view offensive pictures or objects.

Again, the list is not exhaustive. The point is that a hostile and offensive environment clearly represents unwelcomed conduct.

Unwelcome conduct is something that an employee doesn’t invite. Unwelcome conduct is undesirable or offensive. According to the EEOC, “When the conduct involves mistreatment or is racially derogatory in nature, unwelcomeness usually is not an issue, even when the alleged harasser and victim are of the same race.”

In addition to being unwelcome, conduct must normally be severe or pervasive to violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. HOWEVER, racially abusive conduct does not have to be so egregious that it causes economic or psychological injury.

A hostile work environment (harassment) is analyzed on a case-by-case basis, by looking at all the circumstances and the context. Relevant factors in evaluating whether racial harassment creates a sufficiently hostile work environment may include any of the following (no single factor is determinative):

--The frequency of the discriminatory conduct;

--The severity of the conduct;

--Whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating;

--Whether it unreasonably interfered with the employee’s work performance; and

--The context in which the harassment occurred, as well as any other relevant factor.

The more severe the harassment, the less pervasive it needs to be, and vice versa. Accordingly, unless the harassment is quite severe, a single incident or isolated incidents of offensive racial conduct or remarks generally do not create an abusive working environment. But a single, extremely serious incident of harassment may be sufficient to constitute a Title VII violation, especially if the harassment is physical.

Examples of the types of single incidents that can create a hostile work environment based on race include: an actual or depicted noose or burning cross (or any other manifestation of an actual or threatened racially motivated physical assault), a favorable reference to the Ku Klux Klan, an unambiguous racial epithet such as the “N-word,” and a racial comparison to an animal, such as a monkey or gorilla.

Racial comments or other acts that are not sufficiently severe standing alone may become actionable when repeated, although there is no threshold magic number of harassing incidents giving rise to liability.

Source: www.eeoc.gov

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sending Race-Based Emails Can Come Back to Haunt You

I lost my voice, yesterday, and still had to shovel my car out from the snow in NY. So, as I'm still recovering and thawing out, today’s post is just a bit of race-based news that’s been reported in the last few days surrounding the country’s first Black President, Barack Obama. No need to post a comment saying he’s biracial because we are all aware of that. Obama identifies himself as a Black man because that is how he is viewed.


On Monday, Los Alamitos (CA) Mayor, Dean Grose, resigned his position because he sent an email to folks from his personal email account—including to a Black businesswoman, which showed a picture of the White House lawn overgrown with watermelons. The caption read, “No Easter Egg Hunt This Year.”

Grose said that he didn’t mean to offend the businesswoman, Keyanus Price, and he insists that he did NOT know that there was a stereotype that Black people liked to eat watermelon.

However, if you believe he was unaware of the stereotype, then you have to ask yourself what he found funny about the picture and caption. There is no joke without the knowledge. So, he’s a blatant liar -- a liar who is no longer mayor of Los Alamitos.


In State Island, a political appointee to the Community Education Council, Salvatore Ballarino, sent a racist Obama email to 29 people. In the email, there are a series of “jokes” featuring John McCain and Obama. For instance, McCain tells Obama that there are Black people in his family tree and adds, “If I recall, they’re still hanging there.” In another “joke” McCain asks Obama the difference between a Black man and picnic table. The answer is…

A picnic table can support a family.

Mr. Ballarino says that he didn’t create the email, he just forwarded it and deleted it. That’s his defense. I didn’t write the “jokes.” He then defended it by trying to say that the cartoons were “political.”

That does not amount to a real apology. So, it would seem that he doesn’t believe he caused any offense and he doesn’t believe he behaved inappropriately.


It doesn’t matter that these two people are political appointees. People all around the country are sending and receiving emails such as these.

I think incidences like this should serve as a warning to all of us that sending race-based jokes from your workplace or to work-related acquaintances from a personal email account is completely inappropriate and could lead to a person losing their job or, at the very least, being put on display as a person that condones and tolerates racist dialogue and stereotyping.

It also goes to show that the election of Barack Obama as the President did not reflect some sort of kumbaya moment in American history. There are still many people who are resentful of having a Black man in the most powerful position in the land and there is this web of underground racist sentiment moving over the internet and via email.

The workplace is not the place for sharing personal race-based biases. Further, work-related acquaintances should not be in your distribution list for racist sentiments. A person sending these types of “jokes” only to other Whites doesn’t know if he/she will cause offense to the reader. Simply because a person is White doesn’t mean that they won’t be offended by these “jokes” and doesn’t mean that they won’t make a complaint about it. You can’t assume someone is like-minded simply based on skin color.

Black workers are no better, if they are the ones forwarding these sorts of “jokes.” It isn’t okay for anyone to be sending this stuff out at work. We should all behave like grown ups.

If you are the recipient of such an email, you are perfectly within your rights to inform the person if you are offended by the text and pictures. And, you would be within your rights to report the email to your supervisor, the person’s supervisor and/or Human Resources.

Even if the email is not sent to Black staff, but is shown to a Black worker by a White worker, for instance, it is still a reportable offense. Just because only whites received a racist email, even if it’s not about Obama, doesn’t make it okay. The workplace is not the place for the dissemination of race-based emails.

Save your racism and race-based humor for the dinner table or your tea parties with friends and family. When you are with like-minded people, in your personal time, you can say what you’d like.
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