Poll: Racism in the Office

Last Updated Feb 8, 2008 9:22 AM EST

Starting today, "Where's the Line" begins a series of discussions on some of the hot-button ethical issues in business today. We offer you a dilemma and let you decide who's right, who's wrong and who are just plain out of their minds. Today's dilemma deals with issues of race and authority.

Your Dilemma: An employee forwarded a racially insensitive joke to several of his co-workers, which a lot of people didn't think at all funny. You suspended that employee. Then, to establish that racism will not be tolerated and help defuse tension, you hired a diversity trainer. You made it clear that that diversity training would be mandatory for ALL employees.

On the day of the seminar, however, several minority employees skipped work in protest because they thought the offending employee should have been fired. You don't want to do anything that will further the tension, but you made it clear that the seminar was mandatory and now you must take action.[poll id=11]Don't think we've got all the answers? Participate in this discussion and tell us what you think.

Have a workplace-ethics dilemma you'd like to talk about? Email wherestheline(at)gmail.com
THE DISCUSSION: Friday Update

It's interesting that the very first comment on this poll immediately assumed that the minority employees were black (a mistake that many subsequent comments have seen worth correcting). This is a dangerous assumption. But so is the assumption that only the minority employees were offended by the racially insensitive email. It's safe to say that many were offended, yet the non-minority employees showed up for the mandatory training. Is there a danger to them by turning this into a two-sided issue? Does it inadvertently lump everyone who showed up for work that day into the same side? Is the boycott, in some way, an insult to them?

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.