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  1. #1
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    Question for people with HR experience

    I recently heard that a co-worker was called to HR for saying the "N word" in front of an african american worker. They were both on their lunch hour in a group setting outside the office, but the african american worker obviously was very upset by this and reported the person to HR. Can HR give someone a "strike" (we have the three strike system at work) for a comment "off the clock" that took place out of the office? Just wondering.

    I have actually wondered about this for awhile because I used to have a friend who told me totally salicious stories about her sex life when we went out to lunch. Though I found her stories totally hilarious, one day I looked behind me and saw the big guns from work walking behind us frowning and thought - are we in trouble?! Of course, that was all in good fun, unlike the racist troll I work with. But just wondering.

    Of course, the golden rule now (that I'm older) - keep your mouth shut if you're anywhere near work!

  2. #2
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    Hmm. When you say "a lunch setting outside the office" do you mean something like a restaurant off the premises? (as opposed to, say, sitting at a picnic table on the employer's property). And were they on an official lunch, like a department celebration, or were they just a bunch of co-workers that informally decided to go somewhere?

    My thought is that if they were somewhere or doing something that was sanctioned by the company, or on a scheduled break, there *could* be a "strike" against the person who made the racist comment. But even if that's not the case, I don't see a problem with HR or the manager informally warning the person that such language is not acceptable to use with co-workers during the work day.
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    I don't know the answer to this question, but I am curious. I have heard of instances where people have been terminated from positions because of behavior outside of the workplace in non-work related settings (for example, a fight in a bar that didn't result in an arrest, but got back to management). I thought that any type of unbecoming behavior could be grounds for termination, regardless of where it was, just because of your association with that employer.
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    ^ very true

    For example, my company's policy states an employee will be fired if s/he is convicted of drunk driving. Or any other felony.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by FiveRinger View Post
    I thought that any type of unbecoming behavior could be grounds for termination, regardless of where it was, just because of your association with that employer.
    I am not 100% sure about this, but I think this would depend on how likely it was that the behaviour would reflect badly on the employer, just by association. And how likely it is that people would associate the employee (and their actions) with the employer.

    For example, if someone was convicted of being a pornography dealer or something equally loathsome, that certainly wouldn't be good for the company if it was common knowledge that this person worked there (even if they were doing the bad stuff on their own time without using company resources).

    OTOH, there was a case in my area where someone was convicted of being a small time drug dealer, the company fired him, and a court ordered the company to reinstate him because the conviction didn't affect his ability to do the job, and the company didn't present any evidence that demonstrated the company's reputation or business was hurt by having this guy continue to work for them.
    Who wants to watch rich people eat pizza? They must have loved that in Bangladesh. - Randy Newman on the 2014 Oscars broadcast

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    If a person works in an "at will" state (like CA), they can be fired for any reason, as long as it's not for discriminatory reasons. So yes, saying the N-word, in any situation whatsoever, could possibly get a person fired. Even if they did it in the privacy of their own home. But the laws can vary from state to state.

    With that said, it's unlikely that merely uttering the word would get someone sacked. If the actually called someone that name to their face, that would definately get someone terminated. However, more likely that person would be counseled and potentially have a written warning put into their file.

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    I live in Massachusetts. Comment was definitely made way outside the office, in no way affiliated with the office, and no one was wearing a company logo. 100% personal time. Said in the presence of, not to, the person. Still tacky. This person also hated me the moment she started working at the company, and I'm white bread as can be, she's just a real evil beatch, period.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bonita View Post
    I recently heard that a co-worker was called to HR for saying the "N word" in front of an african american worker. They were both on their lunch hour in a group setting outside the office, but the african american worker obviously was very upset by this and reported the person to HR. Can HR give someone a "strike" (we have the three strike system at work) for a comment "off the clock" that took place out of the office? Just wondering.

    I have actually wondered about this for awhile because I used to have a friend who told me totally salicious stories about her sex life when we went out to lunch. Though I found her stories totally hilarious, one day I looked behind me and saw the big guns from work walking behind us frowning and thought - are we in trouble?! Of course, that was all in good fun, unlike the racist troll I work with. But just wondering.

    Of course, the golden rule now (that I'm older) - keep your mouth shut if you're anywhere near work!
    This absolutely ties to potential for hostile work environment. But in the US, a lot of it depends on the work state. In California, they would almost certainly be put on performance management, and be formally written up for this. It doesn't matter that it was outside the workplace. I'm a payroll director for a large science laboratory, and I see the aftermath of this stuff periodically. Some people just never get it. The sex life stories are also inappropriate in the modern workplace, but that is another thread. The bottom line (and this is a very safe idea to follow) - the objective is for everyone to be able to feel comfortable in their workplace - but that can be a lot harder done than said.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bonita View Post
    I live in Massachusetts. Comment was definitely made way outside the office, in no way affiliated with the office, and no one was wearing a company logo. 100% personal time. Said in the presence of, not to, the person. Still tacky. This person also hated me the moment she started working at the company, and I'm white bread as can be, she's just a real evil beatch, period.
    I've been in HR for 15 years, most of it (and currently) in Mass. The fact that they were on their lunch hour, off the clock, and apparently not wearing anything that could be identified to the Company is irrelavent. Nor is it relevant if the word (or joke, or comment) was said in the presence of and not directly to the offended person. It's still likely a violation of the Company's policies on non-discrimination, non-harassment. I'm always counseling employees that what they do and say in the presence of co-workers outside of the office rarely stays outside. The tension and hostility of the words/actions inevitably come back in to affect the workplace.

    Having said that, one isolated occurrence is not likely something I would terminate an employee for - especially since it was two co-workers and not a Supervisor and subordinate. If this person who said the "n" word has no former complaints against them of a similar nature in their file, I'd probably go with a documented warning and some re-training.

  10. #10
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    One more thing about this Bonita....you heard about this incident. You weren't there in person but heard about it down the line. Which tells you all you need to know about why something was done by HR. Had the company not acted, they could be accused of being insensitive and that puts the company in a far worse position. Company's get in trouble all the time for having a "hostile" work environment, and being accused of tolerating racist employees could easily be seen as contributing to a "hostile" environment.

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