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Posted: February 03, 2011

Handling the hate

Thanks to Rush & company, it's creeping back into the workplace

John Heckers

 When Rush Limbaugh mocked the Chinese language and Asian people on his radio show, it hit home. You see, my wife and her family are Asian. She is Thai and Chinese, and her adoptive parents are of proud Japanese heritage. They all grew up with such ignorant mockery of their race. That it still exists is unconscionable in our society. That any company still sponsors this show, with its racism and bigotry, is shameful.

But this kind of bigotry which, for a very long time, had not been tolerated in the workplace, is slowly creeping back in. Here are some ways to handle it.

1). Make clear that there is a "zero tolerance" policy on hate speech. Racist, sexist, ageist, etc. remarks must be dealt with at once, and harshly. If they are not, you are risking a complaint, bad PR or lawsuits. Even if you, yourself, are a Neanderthal, you must enforce the law of the land. And the law of the land does not allow people to be insulted or demeaned in their workplace.

2). Even if the law does not protect a group, you must. LGBTQ persons are not yet protected under the law in most places. Neither are larger Americans. But every person deserves to be allowed to do their job without harassment in today's workplace. Make this very clear to your staff. Remember, a group does not have to be protected under the law to file lawsuits for "hostile environment."

3). Watch "humor." Humor is touchy. One person's belly laugh is another person's offense. I have mostly solved that by being pretty corny. Corny is better than offensive, though most of my jokes get groans, not laughs. Humor in the workplace should be kept "G-Rated," and not refer to anything sexual, ethnic, racial, and so on. Make sure that your staff understands this. You may get called "politically correct." This is better than getting called "a defendant."

4). Keep the radio or TV neutral. No Rush or Beck. No Maher or Maddow, either. If you allow radios or TV sets, make sure that they are tuned to neutral shows and channels. This means no Fox News and no MSNBC. These are inflammatory stations and will cause workplace friction you don't need.

5). Watch inter-office emails. Sending political or "humorous" emails is a really great way to get your company in deep doo-doo. Don't allow your people to send them. Even if the email is from their personal email account, you can get in trouble if it is sent from an office computer. Make clear that sending emails that could be deemed offensive is a terminating offense. The only emails sent while at the office or from the office computers should be emails having to do with work. When they're at home on their own computers, they have freedom of speech...sort of. Check with your attorney on this one and strictly follow his or her advice. A couple of recent cases have put this one up in the air.

6). Set the example. Don't assume that all of your staff holds the same opinions as you do. Keep political speech out of the office. And hate speech of any kind, whether against a race, a gender, or any other group, or the President of the United States (regardless of party) has no place in the workplace. Set the example by not talking about controversial subjects in your office or place of work.

7). Ban non-work-related groups from using office spaces. This is, I know, controversial. But it is possible that, if you allow one non-work-related group to use conference rooms, and so on for their activities, you'll have to allow all non-work-related groups to use this space. Professional associations or professional networking groups are fine. But when you start to let a sewing circle or Weight Watchers use office resources, you open the door for religious or political groups to demand equal time. And this opens the door for trouble.

8). Keep a long arm. Make sure your rules against hate speech or hostility extend beyond the actual workplace into all work situations. If your staff is out together at a restaurant, you might still be able to be held accountable for any hate speech. Make clear that your "zero tolerance" policy extends to all work situations, including "working lunches," birthday bashes, retirement parties, holiday parties, etc.

The polarization of our country is being done so a few agitators can get rich by making people's blood boil. Don't let their profit ruin yours!

Ready for that new executive job? Join John and up to 40 of your colleagues on February 14th, 2011, for Structured Networking and have a great excuse to avoid one of those nasty Valentine's Day dinners. More info and required registration here.

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John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC was an Executive, Relationships, Life and Spiritual Coach in Denver with 30 years of experience  helping people with their lives, relationships and careers.

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Readers Respond

It's interesting. I've already had a couple of "unsubscribes" from my "Tip of the Week" newsletter and a couple of nasty emails about this article...both making incredibly racist remarks against Asians and both defending Limbaugh's ignorant and bigoted remarks. I think this is a hallmark of those who are captive of an ideology. They can't STAND to hear anything that challenges their ideological mouthpieces or the totality of that other words, they are unwilling to admit the possibility of making a mistake or being wrong. We see this both on the Right and the Left...and it is equally disgusting on both...tho' the people who have written nasty emails to me have been on the Right so far. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 02 04
Yes, Dave. The Ditto-heads need to wake up and see the hatred in Rush. Can't stand the guy, or Beck, Hannity, etc. However, Bill Maher and his unreasoning hate for those of us who are Christian (or religious in any way) really is over the top on the left. I've gotta say, though, it is OUR fault that these people exist. If we'd simply boycott the sponsors of Limbaugh and Beck, they'd be off the air. Maher is a bit more complicated, since he is supported by HBO, not commercials. But there ARE other movie channels out there, and I don't have HBO any more. Doubtless this will arise cries of "Censorship." It isn't. This kind of hate speech is like any other commodity. If there is not a demand for it, it will not be offered in the market. It is the demand of both the right and the left for hate-filled screeds that has us in the polarized situation we're in today. Boycott these people's sponsors and the hate speech will come to a screeching halt. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 02 03
Thanks for this article, and in particular for reminding Limbaugh lovers of the true nature of the man. I agree that the workplace should not air MSNBC or Fox News opinion shows, let alone put talk radio over the loudspeakers. In rural Colorado, they used to do that in parts stores and hardwares with Paul Harvey's show, and it was tolerable even if he was so predictably right wing. Just goes to show how the discourse has deteriorated. By Dave Lucia on 2011 02 03

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