Update: Racism in the Office Poll

Last Updated Jan 28, 2008 4:45 PM EST

The votes in our poll on how to handle Racism in the Office have been almost equally divided between "Find a compromise" and "Mandatory is mandatory."

But within the second option - discipline the offenders - readers have written some insightful comments that point out an interesting side dilemma: the individual versus the group. In the original dilemma, an individual committed a wrong, management responded by ordering a mandatory diversity training for all, and one group staged a boycott of that event because they did not like the discipline handed out to the individual who started the dilemma.

Reader "ingoodcompany" argued that the employees who conducted the boycott must be disciplined individually for two reasons: "Any response to them as a group likely risks validation of treatment of a given race as a class in the organization. Very dangerous footing from a legal standpoint." And, "all disciplinary action taken against an employee should be treated independent of the actions of others to the extent possible."

The other side of the equation, as reader "tecamper" pointed out, is to address the boycotters as a group. "They should all be talked to as a group and then if they wanted to have a 1:1 afterwards, that can be done."

There are dangers on either side of this individual/group dilemma. If you discipline each boycotter individually, based on their past record, you could have some people getting fired while others get a slap on the wrist, and the whole core issue of what they were trying to say with the boycott is sidestepped because management has chosen to simply handle the absence by the book, the way they would any other offense.

Then again, if you handle the protestors as a group, you have identified them as a separate subsection of the company - which does raise some iffy legal questions - but also awarded them a recognized lobbying power in management decisions.

I want to hear from readers on this individual/group discipline dilemma, and also some options for a healthy solution from those who chose the "find a compromise."

  • 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.