Two black employees complain to a supervisor that a white co-worker is taunting them with racial pejoratives.
What do you do?
- Take the complaint seriously, investigate, and take other steps that are reasonably designed to end the complained-of behavior,
- nothing, or
- ignore the complaint, just like the racist graffiti of swastikas and racial epithets drawn on the walls of the portable toilets, as well as a noose at the worksite, hung next to a scrawled note containing other expletives, and a threat of lynching.
Unless you stick with No. 1, you’ll probably be signing a check with a lot of zeros. Well, maybe not as many as when the Germans bought Springfield Nuclear Power Plant from Montgomery Burns. But it’ll be payment! Just ask an electrical subcontractor that recently settled with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for $1.25M after it allegedly went for No. 3.
According to this EEOC press release, the company will provide $1,250,000 in compensatory damages to eight African American former employees and hire an EEO consultant to improve the workplace. Among other things, the company must review its policies and train all employees, including superintendents and general forepersons, on preventing and reporting racial harassment. The company will also work with the consultant to develop policies and procedures to facilitate discussions with potential subcontractors, general contractors, and unions about how to best monitor, prevent and remedy harassment and racist graffiti at worksites and develop proposals to incorporate such terms into contracts.
If you operate in the construction industry or do business at job sites with other companies, it can be particularly challenging to police not only your employees’ behavior but also the interactions between your workers and others. Yet, your company is ultimately responsible for doing its part to maintain a harassment-free workplace, which includes addressing discriminatory behavior that vendors, general contractors, subcontractors, or customers may direct at your workforce.
But don’t just take my word on it. Take it from the EEOC:
“While a construction worksite may raise issues over who controls conditions, this case should send a clear message that whether an employer is a subcontractor or the general contractor, all employers have a duty to take prompt, effective action to stop harassment and hate speech in the workplace.”