As a supervisor, you know you need to watch what employees say in the workplace. You especially don’t want to condone talk that might discriminate against or harass anyone.
But while watching mouths, don’t forget to keep a tight rein on your own.
The wisdom of this was demonstrated recently by a case involving a manager at a chain restaurant/store in Flint, MI.
The manager, who was not African-American, supervised a group of employees who were. One topic of conversation among them was Michigan’s food assistance program, which needy state residents access by using “Bridge Cards,” electronic fund transfer cards.
A number of the employees, including the manager, had gotten into the habit of calling the Bridge Card a “ghetto card.”
When an assistant manager overheard conversations involving the manager that seemed racially questionable – about the cards, and also about earthquake victims in Haiti – the company opened an investigation into the manager’s conduct. It turned out she had said other things that were deemed to have racial overtones.
Line employees, too, were found to have used objectionable language, like “ghetto card.” But they were obliged only to undergo retraining on company policy. The manager was fired. The company said she was held to a higher standard because of her leadership position.
The manager sued for reverse racial discrimination, but the court threw her case out.
Moral: You represent your employer in a way that ordinary employees don’t. Tailor your language accordingly.
Cite: Martinez v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, No. 11-2189, 6th Cir., 1/10/13.
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