Late last year, an unusual incident happened at my work, where I've been for six years. As I entered the building my human resources manager, for no apparent reason, yelled at me: "Go back! We don't need you here!" I was shaken.
My boss was on vacation but when my boss returned I recounted the incident. My boss said the HR manager is not like that – to which I agree – but why did this happen? Another time, HR organized a meeting for all finance staff, except me. The next day the HR manager told me the secretary forgot to include my name. I responded that I should go to the next meeting with another department. The HR manager just walked away. I haven't taken any other action except letting my boss know. I am confused about what I should do to defend myself in case of another mishap.
I am in the aerospace industry and fellow employees say there's discrimination when it comes to promotions and minorities don't get to upper management. Overall I'm content with management except for these incidents. What bothers me is that no one came forward to settle this incident.
THE FIRST ANSWER
Founder, Made You Think Coaching, Toronto
While bullying in schools makes headlines, it rarely gets talked about in the world of grown-ups, but it's as common as our dislike of Mondays. We're just sneakier about it (especially if it's discrimination). Your main concern seems to be that no one came forward to address the issue, and you want to know what to do if it happens again.
Let's focus on the first issue in hopes that it will prevent it from reoccurring. Indeed, someone should have addressed the issue with you, but if we wait for what we hope will happen, we may grow cobwebs. Grab the bull by the horns before it has the chance to turn on you again.
If you trust your boss, start there. Ask for advice but make sure you have a potential solution to share – it shows you're making an effort. Don't accuse anyone of anything, just state your opinion and explain what you would like to see change. Speak from facts, not emotions. Our emotions are often hijacked by our ego and our ego rarely gives good advice.
Do you have colleagues you trust? If so, see if they have experienced anything like this and what advice they have.
Remember: Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but other times it just gets replaced. I have always believed that our integrity is more important than our pay cheque; if we approach things maturely and respectfully, we can often keep both.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Associate professor, industrial/organizational psychology, University of Windsor
I get the impression that you are uncertain about your interpretation of events and are not sure whether your HR manager has deliberately mistreated you. Racial discrimination is not something to be ignored or taken lightly, but it might be premature to be looking to it – or any other motive – as an explanation.
You should not feel guilty about how you responded to the incident. You acted appropriately by talking to your boss. You could have also talked to the HR manager to ensure you did not mishear or misinterpret what was said, but it is appropriate for your boss to get clarification on your behalf.
If other incidents occur, continue to inform your boss but also document the date; time; specifics of what was said and done; and who you informed. Avoid giving a personal interpretation of events (such as saying it appeared to be racist), as the document should appear as objective as possible.
Employers are required to ensure the workplace is free of harassment and unfair treatment; an investigation is warranted when an employee comes to them with a concern. If your boss dismisses your concerns, talk to your union, which can intervene for you.
But don't get too far ahead of yourself. You say you are happy overall with the environment; don't disrupt an otherwise satisfactory working situation until you have established the facts.
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