can you fire someone solely for being racist?

In an interesting juxtaposition with a letter from earlier today, a reader writes:

I know you have answered a few variations over this, but I am hoping for a more clear answer in reference to my situation.

Recently, my company hired someone that was extremely racist. He worked with me on his first day, where he dropped the N-word six times. I was shocked, and that night before bringing this up to my employer, I did a little social media sleuthing and saw a horrifying Twitter page full of xenophobic and racist tweets and posts. I brought this to my employer with screen shots of the posts and told them what he said with me during his first day and the next day they (his third day at the company) brought him in to a meeting with the company lawyer and president and fired him. (Yay.)

That is all straightforward, I believe. However, after speaking to a friend who is in entry level HR, she said we couldn’t simply fire him for being racist. Now, obviously our lawyer and HR rep disagreed with that because he was fired. But what say you? Are racist posts and hate speech enough to fire someone? She seems to think we should have put him on a PIP and waited for his racism to rear its ugly head at work before acting. I think at that point its too late and having a racist employee puts our employees of color at risk unnecessarily. I am proud of the way the company handled it, but she thinks we opened ourselves up to legal liability. She said his racism was apart of his “political opinion” and you can’t fire someone over their political opinion. But “racist” is hardly an political opinion, it’s hate speech.

So, I won’t ask if we were “wrong” to fire him, but could we have potentially opened ourselves up to legal issues by firing him based solely on racist tweets and his racist comments said to me directed at other people?

Yes, you can legally fire someone for being racist.

Your friend in HR is either not as fully versed in HR as she should be (which is likely at entry-level) and/or she works for a company with internal rules that she has mistaken for being the law (not uncommon among HR people, interestingly).

It’s true that employers shouldn’t fire people for political speech generally — but in most U.S. jurisdictions it’s legal for them to do so. (There are a few places that prohibit it, but they’re the exceptions — and there’s no federal law prohibiting it. It sounds like your friend doesn’t realize that.)

But that’s not even the point here, because as a society, we’ve chosen to treat hate speech as different from other types of speech.

Your employer is entitled not to want to be associated with racist, hateful viewpoints, and it’s entitled to ensure its employees aren’t subjected to racist speech or racist coworkers.

And what’s more, this guy had already spewed racism in the workplace, on his first day, six times. So this wasn’t about judging him for what might be in his heart; it’s about concrete racist statements he made at work. Your employer is legally allowed to say, “No, that’s not okay here, and we will not continue to employ you.” They’re not required to warn him first, or put him on a racism PIP (!). They can just say no and fire him.

This dude can think whatever he wants and feel however he feels. But there are consequences to what he says to people and what he puts out into the world on social media, and your employer was on solid ground in deciding not to tolerate it.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 586 comments… read them below }

    1. fposte*

      You could legit fire him just for idiocy. He dropped the N-word six times on his first day with people he didn’t know?

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Right? I’m so curious about what kind of workplace this is, too, where someone can come in and think this is ok.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I had a professional, degreed person use a racial slur very casually, the first time we spent any time together.

        2. Mr. Tyzik*

          That’s awfully classist. Just because an environment may be manufacturing, that does not make the n-word acceptable.

          I’m really surprised.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            In truth the only people I’ve heard say that word were African Americans, white guys who think that they can use it with abandon because they have Black friends, and upper-class British snobs.

            1. Busy*

              Not where I live.

              And I wouldn’t say it is a part of manufacturing, but it is really common within it. Particularly in areas where racism is still prevalent. So while I understand the concern for classism, this really is a thing people in manufacturing do have to deal with regularly.

            2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              I’m glad you haven’t experienced much racism on a personal basis. But I’ve heard it constantly growing up from my racist AF family members. And the weasels with their jacked up trucks and their giant confederate flags who do it to torment everyone in their path and to let everyone know their hate.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                Where I grew up there was a lot of racism but basically no racial *slurs*, because somehow the cultural zeitgeist in my hometown was that the problem with slurs wasn’t the racism, it was that they were uncouth, like a really bad swear. People were still totally racist as heck and would tell you all kinds of horrible things about people of color, they just didn’t use SLURS because THAT would be rude. D:

        3. Trout 'Waver*

          I want to push back against this comment a bit. I work in manufacturing in the rural South (of the US). And that guy wouldn’t have lasted the shift in a blue collar role or white collar/office role. I’m uncomfortable jumping straight to thinking someone who is openly racist is likely in manufacturing.

        4. LITJess*

          I’m picturing finance, like IB. The kind of guys who might still have a Scarface poster on their wall, even though they’ve never seen the movie. Maybe that’s just my tri-state roots showing tho.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            I see him in the service industry. Like a car wash (HARDEST job I’ve ever had, legit!) or something similar. There’s a lot of racism in the service industry (it’s what happens when racist and jaded people come together in a physically and mentalling demanding job and complain about their annoying (human) customers.

            But OP’s friend needs to remember that an employer can fire you (in most states) for the color of your toenail polish. Anything else is probably allowed, especially if it’s going to harm their workers, even mental/emotional harm. But I do see her point about CYAing, though by then there would be so much damage done that they would likely lose good workers too. It’s just not worth it to wait.

            1. LITJess*

              Something about the letter gives off a corporate vibe to me, but yes, I’m flashing back to my 6 years in retail and the man racist interactions I had with co-workers and customers.

              Also, good point on the at-will employment. Racists are not a protected class.

              1. LITJess*

                ** that should read “and, man, the racist interactions…” Not the man racist. I worked mostly with women in stores catering mostly to women, and the racial profiling was alive and well.

        5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Honestly, I was thinking truck driving/logistics more so. This is the kind of stuff I’ve heard from drivers who don’t give an efffffffff and they’re usually used to just throwing their weight around and doing what they want when they want without many consquences.

          In manufacturing we work too closely with each other to be this blatant and crass.

      2. Observer*


        I mean, who does that? For that matter who drops ANY slur with people you don’t know?

      3. Nephron*

        Yeah, there are places that would fire you for saying much less offensive swear words 6 times on your first day. I know my old camp counseling jobs would have gotten rid of me for bad language.

        1. Cactus*

          Yep. I never swear at a new place of work until/unless I suss out whether it’s an acceptable behavior in that environment. (Slurs, suffice to say, are never okay.) This fired employee seems to have VERY poor judgment, on top of the racism.

      4. mcr-red*

        Yeah, I didn’t know people like that just let it fly within the first few minutes of meeting someone!

      5. Librarian of SHIELD*

        A *minimum* of six times. We don’t know if he said anything to anybody else while the OP was in the bathroom or something.

      6. Tom & Johnny*

        I went to a job interview once and the interviewer’s screen changed over to his screensaver (when that was still a thing, but not *that* long ago). It was images of women straight out of porn videos. Moving right and left. Swirling around. Boobs, butts, mouths, the whole nine yards. Nothing left to the imagination. I’m not talking girly pics or Playboy either. There was nothing remotely tasteful or coy. It was out there. He didn’t bat an eye.

        I was absolutely gobsmacked, but maintained my composure. I had to do a reality check afterwards with friends whether this was in any way whatsoever acceptable / normal / anything. Of course anyone I spoke to was absolutely horrified, as I was too.

        So yeah these things happen. And it’s breathtaking. He sat in an open office too.

        I didn’t get the job.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah…that’s a form of sexual harassment.

          The lawyer always pulls this kind of example out of the deck when they talk about illegal behavior.

        2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          The inside doors of a supply cabinet were covered with Playboy bunny photos, whenever anyone opened the doors, it was the first thing they saw. A new manager came in and was doing a walkthrough. He saw the pictures and they were gone within the hour. The guy who owned them sulked for a week.

      7. Maria Lopez*

        “She seems to think we should have put him on a PIP and waited for his racism to rear its ugly head at work before acting.”
        His racism DID rear its ugly head. Correct, fire him for idiocy.

        1. JSPA*

          The idea that he’d have to say it to someone clearly African American by way of direct harassment to merit firing is horrifying. Is that really what she was thinking???!?

          1. Lunita*

            Right? I’m concerned that OP’s friend is in HR at all if she wouldn’t fire someone over this.

          2. LGC*

            So, on that point…like, I know the term “hostile work environment” gets tossed around casually sometimes, but isn’t repeatedly using a racial slur (in an antagonistic sense) kind of the definition of that? Even if there aren’t any black people around to hear it?

            (This sounds like the WORST version of “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”)

            The only explanation I can think of is that the friend just heard about the racist tweets and not about him using the n-word (!!!) at work (!!!!!) repeatedly (!!!!!!) on his FIRST DAY (!!!?!?!!1!1one!). If she did know all the details and she still believes that he should have been put on a PIP first, then I have grave concerns about her ability to do HR.

            (And honestly, the easily discoverable tweets are concerning enough – I assume they’re public if LW was able to read them, and thus anyone in the world can read them. But I could kind of understand the friend’s position in that case.)

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Very unfortunately, his behavior likely didn’t rise to the level of a hostile work environment. To prove a hostile work environment, you have to show that the behavior was severe or pervasive. Severe is a really high standard—it usually has to be so egregious that a reasonable person would find it abusive or harassing (and there are sadly courts that would not find using the n-word six times in one day to one person to be adequately severe). Alternately, the conduct can be pervasive, but to be pervasive it usually has to happen over time.

              Because he was fired on his first day, he was not around long enough for his bad behavior to be pervasive. I suspect the slurs, alone, were inadequate to meet the “severe” standard under these circumstances.

    1. Murphy*

      “We’d like to start by setting some goals for you. We’d like to see you decrease your n-word usage by 20% each week until it’s only occasional or, ideally, never.”

        1. The Original K.*

          Nope. I said below that I’d love to see a racism PIP, and I’d love to see it because I (Black woman) think it would be completely ridiculous and hilarious.

          1. Sarah N.*

            We really need to see impovement on the racist slurs…maybe try cutting it down to only 2 per day.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        “You can substitute phrases like ‘the colored’ in an emergency if you have to, with permission from your supervisor, but we encourage you to try to find alternatives that are not racist at all.

      2. Miss Fisher*

        I was just talking with someone a few minutes ago about how I tried forever to try and get my grandparents to not use this term or the term colored. It really never worked and frustrated me that they used those terms. My grandma was from a small coal mining town in VA where they have a natural land formation that they still refer to using a racist name and their high school mascot was also quite derogatory.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          To be fair, “colored” used to be considered polite (hence the name of the NAACP). The n-word was never, ever, never polite.

            1. Busy*

              Yeah, my grandmother was from the coal mines of WVa. Colored was the polite term. The rural areas outside where I live (not in WVa), much older folks (black and white) still use this term as the “polite” term.

              1. Elenia*

                I’m not white, I’m a “person of color”, and frankly, “colored” seems easier to me. Who decides what we get to be called anyway? “Person of color” seems so awkward to me. Personally I hate it. And in a few years it will probably be something else anyway.

                1. Yikes*

                  Indeed, Elenia, I’ve already started to see backlash from “people of color” who find “people of color” to be an offensive term. It’s rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning, too.

                2. Trying a New Name*

                  I have a feeling “people of color” will in a few decades’ time have a similar connotation to “colored”

                3. Perpal*

                  Yeah i struggle to think of good words… i’m fair skinned just in the medical field and demographics come up sometimes… African American strikes me as so awkward because there are actually people from Africa (born there) who come to America, and the term seems apt there but not as much for folks who were born and raised in the us, it’s a pretty different health and socioeconomic history there, makes about as much sense as calling “caucasians” “European-Americans”, etc. I just try to call people what they call themselves (and of course only bring up race/ethnicity if it’s relevant, which it usually isn’t)

                4. Sue Wilson*

                  well i’ve never heard the term enforced as the “correct” term, so feel free to use something else. you don’t have to see prevalence as pressure.

                  as for “who gets to decide”: people of color was a term coined at a social justice convention of many racially marginalized women as a way to denote organization and solidarity between several races. so….we do, i guess.

            2. AnnaBananna*

              Yep. Anybody that raised children in the 60’s was likely brought up on ‘colored’.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            I still heard coloured in use in polite circles when I moved to the UK about 15 years ago. I was surprised but thought that maybe the consensus was different here.

            1. Green great dragon*

              I think things shifted a little later in UK than in US – 15 years is a bit recent but 20-25 years ago I think it was a usual/polite term.

            2. UKDancer*

              Definitely about 20 years ago that was one of the polite terms in the UK. I’d say by 15 years ago “black” was definitely clearly preferable to “coloured” as the polite descriptor. Certainly it is now.

              People of my grandparents’ generation still viewed coloured is as more polite and found changing difficult. My grandfather in NE England for example had 2 continence nurses taking turns to visit regularly to change his catheter and to the end of his life he referred to them as “the coloured lass” and “the foreign lad.” The foreign one was incidentally from Poland.

              I wouldn’t expect anyone under about 65 to say anything other than “black” as a first descriptor. If you know someone prefers Afro-Carribbean or African or reference to a specific country then you use that. So at one point I had 3 llama herders in my team. Arwen identified as Trinidadian, Boromir identified as African and Eomer identified as Black British. And the only reason I knew any of this was they were arguing about the way the company collected diversity data on staff.

            3. Mrs. H. Kenway*

              People in my husband’s UK office not only used “colored” but occasionally the n word (or a derivative thereof). They thought it was absolutely *hilarious* that it offended him and that he was being a ridiculous “nancy” when he asked them to please refrain from using it.

              But then, this is the same company that refused to hire a black woman to be their receptionist because they “didn’t want one of those” in the office.

              A different company he worked for briefly fired one of their male employees after discovering at a work event that his wife was black and from Africa. They started torpedoing his work the next day, and he was gone within six weeks. *That* was the same company where one male employee stole bikini pictures of a female employee from her phone and set them as his desktop background. When she complained she was told to “lighten up, it’s just a joke, and you should be flattered.”

              I saw more sexism and racism in seven years in the UK than I did in thirty-five years in the US. It was absolutely shocking (and disgusting).

          2. Close Bracket*

            The n-word was, idk, neutral, maybe? at one point. Maybe neutral is the wrong word, but I’ve definitely known people who didn’t realize it was an insult that they shouldn’t use. Those people were from an area widely perceived to be more racist than the rest of the US.

            I heard my own mother once toss out a racial slur directed at a different group of people, and she thought it was just the word you use to describe that group of people.

            1. Perpal*

              “negro” at one point in history might have been neutralish; there’s another word i think of as the n-word and has always been a slur tho. i can’t even uhg

            2. JSPA*

              There’s some confusion, due to what “negro” sounds like, with certain accents, and the derivation of the N-word from Negro. Doesn’t mean the N word was ever “neutral.” Unless you’re going back to the time where slavery, disenfranchisement, the counting of people of African decent as 3/5 of a human for apportionment of congressional representation (etc) was also considered acceptable. (Which historically, was most or all of the United States, including the supreme court…but that, like the idea of women not having legal rights, should be ongoingly shocking.)

              As for accidental misuse of a term due to extreme insularity or locally skewed norms…it exists, sure, but it’s so very not relevant here. In the OP’s case, the personal website demonstrated that the co-worker was intentionally spewing hate, rather than somehow growing up in a tiny monoculture where he’d somehow been mis-taught terminology in the absence of a context of broader racism.

              Granted, clueless people can and do sometimes use a word that they would not use, if they knew it was offensive. This may or may not be in the context of a larger set of actual, accompanying beliefs that make them functionally problematically racist, even if they “don’t intend it to be hurtful.”

              But on the scale of, “someone cruelly tricked me into believing this word meant something else and I’m horrified / I used the word intentionally but didn’t know it was rude / I knew some people think it’s rude, but I wasn’t using it to be hurtful / I was using it to be hurtful, but only in a personal way, not because I actually hold enmity towards the group, broadly / I do hold enmity towards the group broadly, but would not utter direct threats / I would utter threats but not burn a cross on your lawn / where are the matches and my white hood,” the co-worker was somewhere between broad enmity and matches. This isn’t something the company should even consider tolerating.

            3. Mrs. H. Kenway*

              The n word might not have been considered *offensive,* but even then it was not considered a polite word; it was a word “trashy people” used. So those using it might not have been judged for their racism, but they were judged for being low-class enough to use it.

        2. Christmas*

          My grandma whispered the word “black” for as long as I can remember. It often annoyed me, but sometimes I just found it so ridiculous I couldn’t help but laugh. I often replied by asking, “What? Is it a secret?“ I guess her behavior could have been a lot worse!

    2. pleaset*

      Also worth noting there is a differences between

      1. specch made in private outside work
      2. speech made to the public (at rallies, on TV, in the news, public social media etc) outside work
      3. speech made at work.

      In the case of hate speech, the latter is absolutely bad insofar as it affects the working environments. In the case of the second one, it can be bad depending on the job. The first should matter the least to one’s job – though in certain roles (top level staff, police, teachers etc) it still matters.

      I’ll close by saying the person the OP mentioned was fired for being racist if you’re thinking of being racist as beliefs. He was fired for acting on those beliefs in terms of words at work which actually affect other people. You should be able to think whatever you want (or don’t want – I have sexist thoughts for example though I’m tryign to get rid of them). When you start spewing it out, it’s an action. And in the case of hate speech, that action is bad.

    3. WellRed*

      This is reminding me of the office when a character (presumably michael scott, never watched), asked a Mexican character if there was a less offensive term she’d prefer to be called.

    4. Fortitude Jones*

      OMG, that was my favorite part of Alison’s response (her (!) after it made me legitimately laugh out loud for a minute). OP, your friend needs to go back to HR training STAT because she has no idea what she’s talking about (which is horrifying given her position in the company).

    5. Forrest Rhodes*

      Seems like I recall Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor doing a sketch like this on SNL (okay, a long time ago), no? It may even have been in the nature of HR Chase giving Pryor a pre-employment interview.

  1. Mannheim Steamroller*

    [This dude can think whatever he wants and feel however he feels. But there are consequences to what he says to people and what he puts out into the world on social media, and your employer was on solid ground in deciding not to tolerate it.]

    Some folks don’t understand that “freedom of speech” DOES NOT mean “freedom from consequences of speech.”

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        The mouseover text from that comic, a bit that I’ve always loved:

        “I can’t remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.”

      2. AnnaBananna*

        I absolutely love 1st amendment debates (I miss college), and just came upon this fact not too long ago. Did you know that liking a Facebook post is also considered ‘speech’ now?

          1. JSPA*

            Seems like there should be extra protections for a single misplaced “like.” I’ve noticed how easy it is to hit a “like” icon without even noticing, as you’re trying to close an annoying window, after some danged update re-activates auto-play. It’s a lot harder to accidentally mis-type a coherent sentence with a potentially relevant slur embedded.

            1. Willow*

              Every single case I’ve heard where someone has been criticized for this, it’s for many “likes” on similar offensive posts, not a single mistake.

    1. Amber T*

      I know that freedom of speech is a protection that the government won’t penalize/censor you, so assuming this is a private/non-government workplace it’s a no brainer. But could this turn into more of a headache if OP was employed by a state or federal government?

      1. bloo*

        i doubt it – it presents a clear threat to employees of color and the manager has a duty to keep them free of a hostile work environment (under which racism would almost certainly fall)

        1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          I’m not an employment attorney, but I think that’s the most correct answer. “Hostile work environment” can include online, off-the-clock interactions so long as it affects work in some way, and I think this would qualify.

          1. Observer*

            In this case, you don’t even need to resort to that. He used racist language SIX times in ONE DAY! His FIRST day on the job, no less!

            This guys behavior is so out of line that it’s not even funny. NOT firing him is probably what would have opened the OP’s employer to legal liability.

            1. Busy*

              Yeah … that is outrageous.

              Ya know, I live in an area heavy with racism and sexism. And even here, that is excessive on the first day.

              With that said, yes. If the employer would not have reacted when told, then the employer would have made the work environment hostile. Like you are literally legally required to do something when someone behaves like this.

              Haha ask me how I know!

      2. GreenDoor*

        This is an interesting question. I work in public service. I don’t know the answer, but the prevailing attitude in my workplace is that we exist to serve the people and, therefore, must strive to serve all segments of the population with a consistent level of service. But a person can’t reasonably do that while they’re spewing out hatefulness. I, too, would love to know how civil service and employee due process rules would come into play here.

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          At least for my workplace, a new employee is on probation. All a supervisor would have to do is say the employee will not pass probation. The employee can’t grieve it.

          If it had not come up until after the probation period, it would take an investigation before the employee could be let go or sent to re-training. Racist epithets explicitly fall under our harassment policy. Whether the employee was let go would depend a lot on the egregiousness of the behavior. But the investigation would involve the union and would be grievable.

          So in practice, if we heard someone using racist language on their first day (!) any halfway decent supervisor would go to HR and start the termination process immediately. It’s so much easier if you don’t wait.

      3. Yorick*

        No, firing is treating one as an employer rather than using governmental powers to prosecute

        1. Martino*

          I could be wrong on this, but I think the government is also bound by the First Amendment when acting as an employer. Obviously it can impose rules on people while they work, so the OP’s colleague could be fired just like someone who insulted clients. But I think it would be harder to justify firing someone for racism or other uses of free speech in their spare time.

          1. OhNo*

            I think that depends on the requirements of their position. I know there are certain jobs in my state government where publicly expressing political opinions outside of work would get in serious trouble, because the position is required to appear neutral and serve representatives from both parties equally. I could picture there being jobs with similar requirements for racist/bigoted speech, if a significant part of their job is appearing neutral/welcoming to all people.

          2. Thornus*

            It’s complicated, to put it simply.

            The courts first look at whether the speech was on an issue of public interest. Criticizing the coffee selection in the DMV’s break room is not. Criticizing the trade practices with coffee exporting countries probably is.

            They next look at whether the speech was part of your job duties or not. The 1A doesn’t protect on the job speech if your duties don’t include speaking. This can get cloudy.

            Then there’s a touchy feely balancing test about balancing the employee’s interest in free speech vs the public employer’s interest in the orderly and efficient operation of the workplace. This is also, from what I recall, where we get into looking at whether off duty speech was so disruptive or undermining of the entity’s ability to serve the public. As a hypothetical, think for instance of a firefighter saying on Facebook that fires in a minority area of town are good because it will get rid of “those people.” That would probably be enough to erode public confidence in that government entity’s ability to do its job. But the same firefighter saying he was going to vote red in a heavily blue area would almost certainly be protected (even if a private employer could fire him for that political statement).

          3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            Last week, Philadelphia fired 13 police officers for racist comments made on Facebook. Yesterday, Louisiana fired two police officers for racist comments made on Facebook (that directly threatened a Congresswoman). Both required investigation; both resulted in termination. I have read of other non-police government employees being fired for racist behavior/speech.

            Thankfully, many government entities can fire people for racist behavior/speech even if it did not occur in the workplace.

        2. Observer*

          It’s actually not so simple. There is a lot of precedent for not allowing government entities to fire people for the things they say. The reason why a government entity could do it in this case is because it actually presents a risk to the organization (illegal behavior at work) and impairs its ability to do its job (since we know that the employee is likely to discriminate against a particular segment of the population and also brings the agency into disrepute.)

          1. Clisby*

            Yeah, the folks who maintain the plantings in a public park likely aren’t going to be fired quite as quickly for what they say outside of work as police officers/firefighters (the public employees people depend on for their safety.)

      4. Lynca*

        No it wouldn’t. I work for a State Gov. Agency and it is clear (crystal clear) during orientation that there is zero tolerance for discrimination or harassment. It’s a termination level offense, not a PIP one.

        1. Anne Elliot*

          Affirming this for my jurisdiction as well. In my state, for state government, a single use of a racist epithet is “unacceptable personal conduct for which no reasonable person should expect to receive prior warning.” And it will get you fired, not PIP’ed. This is true whether or not the employee is probationary or permanent, but as others have pointed out, in this case the the guy pooped the bed on the first day. In my state, a probationary state employee can be terminated for any reason during the probationary period, so long as the reason is not discriminatory.

      5. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        It depends. I probably couldn’t fire an employee for the tweets, for example, but I could for using the N word 6 times in one day, as that’s pretty offensive to most people and it is occurring *during work hours.* (Also, if he is tweeting during work hours, could do something about that too.)

        But if someone wants to talk about who they voted for and why, for example, that’s (probably) protected.*

        *Supervisor can ask that this not be discussed at work and then subsequently counsel/discipline if it continues … but this would need to be equally enforced.

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          Yep, this exactly. And if the employee was in a public- facing role and those tweets were public, I could make the case that they could not perform their public- facing job duties effectively due to the effects of that behavior.

        2. Kendra*

          Yes and no, on talking about who you voted for; in my state, a government employee (state, county, or municipal) can’t support a particular candidate or political position while they’re on the clock, because it’s considered using public monies (the employee’s salary) to conduct a campaign, and that’s a BIG no-no. I’ve never heard of anyone actually being fired for it, but I’m sure it’s possible (if a citizen complains to the state Clean Elections Commission about it, and their investigation confirms you did it, they can fine your workplace and/or take you to court, and that’s never a good thing for your career prospects).

          1. JSPA*

            absolute hard no before the election, and yes, people do get fired.

            Probable ongoing no after, for local races where the person in question is now in an oversight position.

            But if the city employee wants to say who they supported for president in 2000, or even last election (past tense), especially if the candidate is term-limited / not up for re-election in the future, that’s probably not a violation of this particular clause. Except in roles where people even have to keep their party preferences quiet (in the same way that many, many news reporters are registered Independent for exactly this reason–which sort of stinks, as it removes some of the best informed people from participation in the primary process, in states that hold closed primaries).

      6. WellRed*

        When it comes to the government prosecuting for free speech, that would involve police, courts, lawyers. Your average government agency, like DHS or parks or housing serve here as employers, not any sort of legal or judicial entity.

      7. Governmint Condition*

        In my state, he could be fired, but only because he expressed these views at work. If they only express these views outside of work, and not where any co-workers may be present, and do not identify themselves as a government worker while doing so, and do not have a job in which they either directly interact with the public and/or make policy decisions and/or have to make judgments of other people, they can’t really be disciplined. But they’d be limited to jobs such as mowing the grass on the side of the road. And it won’t be long before they slip up and do something fireable. Where I work, peer pressure would probably push them out, anyway.

      8. I AM a lawyer*

        Possibly, for the comments on Twitter, etc. However, even a government employer could fire him for his use of the “n-word” in the office.

      9. Vicky Austin*

        No. Government employees have been fired for racist speech. If the government were to put an employee in prison for racist speech, THAT would be a violation of the First Amendment.

      10. Amethystmoon*

        Technically you can’t get put in jail for freedom of speech issues, at least most of them, but there is no law (at least that I know of) stating that there will be zero consequences professionally because of them. Most states are at-will employment when it comes to the public sector.

    2. I hate the offseason.*

      In my part of the Fed world, every employee is probationary for the first 1-3 years. You can fire them for any reason or no reason during that time.

    3. H.C.*

      & freedom of speech is generally about protection from government repercussions — not employers. And even then there are some limits & exceptions.

    4. Kenneth*

      Sure. But we can debate whether the meted consequence is warranted by the speech in question, or whether it is excessive. No person should have to suffer excessive consequences from their speech, which is the underlying principle of the Eighth Amendment protection in the United States. Too many who utter “freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences” seem to forget that part.

      If this had been a long-time employee (meaning possibly expensive to replace) who suddenly started doing this, I’d wonder instead whether some other intervention would be warranted instead, while trying to figure out more about why this person suddenly started acting unequivocally racist in the workplace, and whether anything could be done to mitigate this. But since in the LW’s instance it was a new hire doing this on their first day on the job… yeah, no question the company made the right move here.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        My 8th amendment history is not up to date, but I’m pretty sure it only applies to federal and state governments in a breaking the law kind of way, not a being fired way.

        “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

        So a speeding ticket fine for going 50 in a 40 zone can’t be $10,000. You can’t tar and feather people.

        You might disagree that being fired for using the n word 6 times in a day is excessive, but I and most of the other commentators it seems do not think it is excessive or cruel.

        1. Kenneth*

          Did you go out of your way to intentionally misinterpret what I wrote? Where did I disagree? I’m guessing you missed this little bit: “But since in the LW’s instance it was a new hire doing this on their first day on the job… yeah, no question the company made the right move here.” I mean it was the last sentence, which means you likely didn’t read the entirety of my comment.

          At the same time, I said “underlying *principle*” of the Eighth Amendment is that one should not be subject to an excess consequences for their actions or speech.

      2. Anonomoose*

        Again, I think this is an issue of if the government can mete out excessive punishments. Firing from a job, even a government position, is not really a punishment, more of a decision that a company no longer wishes to employ you due to your conduct. This is an easier concept to grasp in other work environments, where contracts are more obvious. You’re simply in breech of contract, and therefore the company is entitled to disolve the contract

        A punishment would be fining or imprisoning you, which a company can’t do.

        1. Kenneth*

          How is firing someone not a punishment? Sure there isn’t any loss of liberty, but there are still short and long-term handicaps that can come from being fired, regardless of the reason. Future employers tend to be less likely to consider candidates who were terminated for cause. And, of course, there is the loss of income, for which the person is not qualified to receive unemployment assistance, which could lead to additional losses.

          When you differentiate that from a layoff, wherein a company decides to let you go but not in response to something you’ve said or done, being fired is a punishment since it only comes in response to your actions.

          Meaning it is a *consequence* of your actions.

          Meaning we can (and should always) question whether that consequence is excessive rather than just blindingly accepting it while spouting “freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences”. But no one seems to consider whether the consequences someone suffers for their speech or actions is excessive. Whether at the hands of a private company or the government, no person should be subject to consequences that are excessive given the circumstances.

          Rights restrict how the government interacts with you, but principles are supposed to guide how we interact with each other. All of our rights have underlying principles.

          AND, to reiterate, in the circumstance presented by LW, taking the totality of that circumstance, the termination is NOT excessive.

          1. JSPA*

            Morality aside, setting up your employer for a huge lawsuit is broadly a firable offense. And that’s what this would be.

            I get that you’ve probably seen something like this happen to someone who was very nice to people (except the people they were being horrible to, and about) and you’re maybe thinking of mitigating circumstances like someone needing treatment for a medical issue. But you’re not actually right here, in any general way.

      3. Gazebo Slayer*

        If it were a long-term employee who suddenly started spouting slurs, I’d give them the boot too. If it were totally out of character based on what I’d seen of them before, I’d tell them they should go to a neurologist to get checked out for dementia or a brain tumor or something that can cause personality changes, but… you *can’t* act like this and keep a job where you are around customers or coworkers who are people of color whom you could really hurt with this behavior. Employing someone like this is harming the marginalized people who come in contact with him.

      4. JSPA*

        Pretty sure 8th amendment is no more relevant here than free speech. If you’re talking about a long-term employee who has a stroke and starts saying inappropriate things as a result, that’s a medical condition, and its own special case. If someone just plain decides to express racism publicly, then no, there’s no “but we’re so used to him here and he makes a great Santa Claus” clause. Create a hostile environment? Get fired.

  2. Bend & Snap*

    I wish everyone who has the BUT FREE SPEECH response to anything racist would read this.

    1. The Supreme Troll*

      Personally, my only safety net from the “But Free Speech” defense has been that you cannot be punished for speaking out against any government official in the U.S. But (not sure) even with that…I never believed that you could be safe from legal action if you made knowingly slanderous accusations, or attributed things falsely to a politician with the intent to defame or discredit them.

      1. Colette*

        You can be punished – you can be asked to leave someone’s house, fired, or told to be quiet. But you can’t be arrested.

        1. Fiddlesticks*

          And protected “free speech” certainly doesn’t extend to threats of violence. A couple of cops in Louisiana just learned that this week.

    2. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

      That, and understand what “freedom of speech” actually means.

  3. Snarkus Aurelius*

    “She seems to think we should have put him on a PIP and waited for his racism to rear its ugly head at work before acting.”


    You should point out to your friend that his racism *already* reared its ugly head on his first day. I could argue that happened before his first day with the social media content!

    What you should really be asking is where your friend draws the line on bigots in the workplace. Because that’s what I’d like to know.

    1. Pants*

      Seriously. Her willingness to make room for racist behavior draws her own views into question. That’s not someone I’d want to keep as a friend.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Exactly, your POC employees should not be used as bait waiting for him to do something even more racist. Using slurs like that is a racist action that does harm to others, not just the promise of future racist actions. Kudos to your company for efficiently giving him the boot!

    3. OP*

      OP Here,

      I agree, our conversation got a little heated because I couldn’t understand that point of view, like at all. She even asked the head HR person in her company about what we were discussing and her HR rep even seemed to cosign what she said. However I just assumed that was an internal issue with their policy rather than my company. Glad to know we were on the right side of history on this one!

        1. OP*

          Agreed, however I would say that her very large corporate company (one we would all recognize) probably wouldn’t agree with her and her HR reps interpretation of this issue, and they would ultimately side with me.

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            A lot of HR folks will err on the side of the employee because they are afraid of litigation (which, quite frankly, is a valid fear) and have a lot of policies and procedures in place to ensure that they are on legally solid ground. What this often means is that they will go to the other extreme in cases where you … really actually are not legally required to do so.

            Long story short: a LOT more is legal for employers to do to employees than most people understand.

          2. NCKat*

            It could be they are only hearing her view of the issue, and so if it should come up in their workplace, the person responsible for the hate speech would be fired.

          3. L Dub*

            I wonder if the friend is being honest about what the head HR person actually said as well.

        1. Liane*

          Me too. This is another company we need the name of, so we don’t accidentally apply there.

      1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

        Wow. Gotta love it when they stan the racists! WON’T SOMEONE *PLEASE* THINK OF THE RACISTS!

        1. CoveredInBees*

          Think of the *bright futures* that could be ruined by the consequences of their entirely voluntary actions!

          1. DerJungerLudendorff*

            What if they felt threatened and oppressed because people try to stop them from threatening and oppressing people?!

      2. Christmas*

        Your HR friend’s initial reaction was definitely not appropriate at all. You were right to take this seriously. I wonder if your friend is the type of person that believes that dropping the n-word “doesn’t count” if there are no people of color around to hear it.

        The use of that word, and other similar hate-speech, is horrifying even once! I had a roommate a few years ago that angrily used the n-word to describe a black celebrity he didn’t like. (We are both white.) When he spat out that word, it knocked the wind out of me. I was chilled to the bone. That was it. I put a deposit down on a new apartment the next day, and was completely moved out the day after that. Haven’t spoken to him since; no desire to.

      3. Nervous Nellie*

        What a yikes moment! I would wonder why part of the pre-employment background check did not include social media. That might have revealed this issue before he was even hired, which could have saved everyone the upset. Maybe that was touched on? I missed it if so. Hope you are doing ok, OP, and kudos to the management at your sensible company!

    4. Sara*

      My guess is that their friend is focusing on the social media sleuthing part and not the saying the N word at work part. Which is 5000% the absolute wrong way to look at it.

      But I know more people than I would like to know who have very strong opinions about whether being racist online is a fireable thing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they (the people I know) would overlook the part about him actually being racist at work in favor of focusing on the being racist online part. Which is troubling.

      1. pleaset*

        “My guess is that their friend is focusing on the social media sleuthing part and not the saying the N word at work part. Which is 5000% the absolute wrong way to look at it. ”

        Yup. If the dude is, say, an engineer who keeps his head down and it never surfaces in any way at work (not likely, but possible), then what he says in relative privacy in so-called private social media is not that bad. But saying it at work? No. And the social media sleuthing proves it wasn’t an accident.

        1. Lavender Menace*

          Well, I’d disagree and said that it would still be bad. Because a person whose racist beliefs are so pervasive that their Twitter page is “horrifying…full of xenophobic and racist tweets and posts” is probably not someone who makes fair decisions when it comes to evaluating, interacting, hiring, promoting, and firing others. And engineers build things for people – one of my literal jobs at my workplace is helping engineers understand diversity and inclusions so they can build things for all people. Engineers and other tech people who don’t think inclusively risk building things for a very narrow group of people.

          1. pleaset*

            My point is that people should have some degree of privacy in their thinking and non-work friendships now matter how offensive.

            If in your practice he could hide that but still good work as far as you can tell (a big if, I know), that’s OK from a work perspective.

            1. JSPA*

              Privacy settings exist. Nobody is reading the guy’s journal, bugging his phone, nor hacking his private comments. Heck, they’re not even reading over his shoulder on the bus, or overhearing him being too loud at the bus stop. Twitter is rather like standing on a soapbox on the street corner, saying horrible things. It’s not a private act, by its very nature.

            2. Tinker*

              When you have your engineer with known “no matter how offensive” views — and that is a terrifyingly large umbrella — that they are good at concealing within the work environment do a technical interview for someone who is visibly the subject of those views, and they say to you “no, this person may look like a good candidate in general terms, but they lack essential technical skills that I know about but you do not” are you going to trust the result?

              If so, for the love of the gods why?

              If not, how can you have someone making decisions for you in areas you are not in a position to dispute, when you cannot trust them to act reliably on your behalf?

              I am an engineer, and I’ve probably had a decent scattering of opportunities today where I could act in some way to someone else’s detriment and it would’t be easy to realize I’d done it — having specialized technical knowledge puts you in a position of trust.

      2. GreenDoor*

        But there have been people who have been fired for online posts/pictures. Not just for racism – that biker that flipped off the president’s motorcade. Teachers photographed drinking alcohol. The Miss Michigan who lost her crown for comments she posted. It’s not fair at all to be fired for what you do on your private time….but online activity is also not to be overlooked. Especially if it could come back to your employer.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          I use the rule of thumb never put on social media what you wouldn’t want your parents or your boss to see. That doesn’t prohibit you from doing stuff, of course. Just don’t put it on social media.

      3. Sara without an H*

        I think you’re right. If someone was posting racist comments and material on the web, but was able to compartmentalize sufficiently that the attitudes never affected his work, you might — might — be able to make a case that it wasn’t the employer’s business.

        Trouble is, few people can compartmentalize that tightly. And in this case, dropping the n-word six times on the first day of employment indicates that this guy wasn’t even trying.

        I suspect that OP’s HR friend is a comparative newcomer to HR work.

    5. Nyltiak*

      Seriously, someone who feels comfortable enough to casually drop the n-word six (6!!!) times on his first day is someone who is going to escalate that rhetoric without looking back. What in the world is wrong with your friend/her company?

      1. irene adler*

        How’d he get through the interview process without uttering any slurs?
        Did he figure that once hired, he couldn’t be touched?
        Guess again!

        1. Observer*

          How’d he get through the interview process without uttering any slurs?

          I was wondering about this. I get not googling someone for fear of finding information that’s problematic to use in hiring. But were there really no red flags?

        2. smoke tree*

          I’m wondering if he opened up with the slurs around the LW either because he thought they’d be sympathetic or because he thought they were unlikely to speak up about it. But it is kind of hard to imagine that someone comfortable using hate speech multiple times on his first day of work wouldn’t have dropped some hints in the interview. Makes me wonder about the interviewer(s).

          1. smoke tree*

            For that matter, I can’t believe this wouldn’t have come up when they checked his references.

    6. Lynca*

      Yeah something is really wrong with the friend’s response and their decision to mentally equate it to political speech. It’d be one thing if this person had strolled up and started unloading on their love of a flat tax. (I’ve had it happen)

      But that’s not what happened. And I am glad the OP’s company did the right thing. I’d be seriously reconsidering the friendship if I’m going to be honest.

    7. irene adler*

      I’m betting that, as a new hire, he was on probation. Hence no issue with letting him go on his first day.

      Geez, what did he think would happen?

      1. Big Bank*

        Came to say this. Even if somehow you couldn’t fire a veteran employee immediately over racist comments at work (you can), this is a new hire who almost definitely had a probation period and can be let go over anything without starting any PIP discussions. And if this is an at-will state, even more so.

        HR friend needs retrained.

    8. Holly*

      I’m also surprised at OP’s friend remarking that it opens the business up to liability when *keeping this person on* opens them up to liability. And political affiliations do not grant protected class status – someone in an actual protected class could sue claiming a hostile work environment.

  4. I coulda been a lawyer*

    Mind. Blown. Most racists I’ve had to deal with have at least been smart enough to try to hide it for at least a little while. Good on you OP – both for bringing his behavior to the attention of someone who can do something about it, and for making sure that your company isn’t exposed legally.

    1. GrumbleBunny*

      Right? Can you even imagine how awful this guy is under the surface if he felt free to openly drop six n-words on his actual first day!?

    2. OP*

      His first comment was shocking, and then progressively got worse. If I wasn’t stuck with him in a confined space I would’ve reprimanded him right then and there, but I felt insanely uncomfortable and vulnerable (hes a man, I’m a woman) I even avoided speaking Spanish in front of him that day to my subcontractors because I didn’t anticipate that ending well.

      I assume he felt so bold because he perceived me as white (I’m not, thought that doesn’t matter). and when I didnt correct him the first time, he thought he could get going.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        OP, I’m truly relieved that he’s gone. I sincerely hope you never have to cross paths with him again.

      2. Gail Davidson-Durst*

        Thanks for the updates/additional story, OP. Wow, I can’t imagine how unsafe you felt in that situation! Good on you for following it up swiftly and definitively. <3

      3. Nephron*

        I am so sorry that happened. And you becoming uncomfortable to the point of not being able to reprimand him and changing your behavior is why he was fired. He was not really fired for being racist he was fired because other employees were impacted and the ability to do the job was impacted.

      4. Observer*

        Oh, wow!

        I can’t imagine how uncomfortable this must have been for you.

        Please write down exactly what happened, with all of this detail, and keep it somewhere safe. If this guy ever decides to make an issue of this, and tries to claim that he was fired for his beliefs (in a jurisdiction where that’s not legal) rather than his impact, a contemporaneous description of his impact would be useful.

      5. What day is today?*

        I’ll bet if he took off his shirt or even rolled up his sleeves, you’d find some white supremacist type tatooing going on.

      6. Claire*

        I’m so glad your HR department acted quickly, and I can totally understand why you couldn’t say anything in the moment. I’m only sorry that your friend wants to make excuses for the jerk.

      7. OrigCassandra*

        Must say, I am sideeyeing your friend even harder now, OP. Could your friend not understand the impact directly on you not only of 6-N-words’s behavior, but the friend’s condoning of it? Yeesh. I’m sorry, OP.

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          I don’t think the friend condoned it–in her company, they do PIPs for this.

      8. emmelemm*

        Oh, the wonderful “he perceived me as white, so he thought he could really let his hair down”. I have a number of minority friends who, by the obliviousness of idiots, often get perceived as white and it gets ugly.

      9. Parenthetically*

        Damn. So glad he’s gone and you don’t have to deal with his gross bigot ass ever again.

      10. Gaia*

        I just want to say this: don’t feel bad for not speaking up to him. That sounds like a very hostile situation. It is completely understandable that you didn’t feel secure doing so. You did the right thing. I’m glad he’s gone.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, this is what is so shocking to me! Not that dude was racist, but to open on his first day with that kind of language??????

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        He thought he was talking to a like-minded individual since OP presents as white. This is actually not that uncommon.

        1. smoke tree*

          Although the fact that he didn’t even try to apply a thin layer of plausible deniability makes me wonder if it was part of some gross power play. Wouldn’t surprise me if this guy was misogynistic as well.

          1. Clorinda*

            There appears to be a strong correlation. Someone who sees one category of people as less-than will have no trouble doing the same to another category.

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          My spouse gets this all the time! People see him as a male-presenting white dude and just let loose with anything, assuming he agrees with whatever bigoted point of view they spout off. He’s had random strangers (white dudes) make racist, sexist, political comments to him in the elevator, assuming a kindred spirit!

  5. Rainbow Roses*

    What does your friend mean by “waited for his racism to rear its ugly head at work ?” He already did. Six time. And that’s just to one person.

    1. Don*

      I mean obviously it would be unfair to expect him to not be racist before such a time as you told him that saying racist stuff is not okay! *this is heavy sarcasm here don’t @ me*

      There’s this really toxic part of the HR world that is simultaneously terrified of doing anything that might possibly ever lead to litigation and completely seemingly unaware that pretty much anyone can sue for pretty much anything. You can’t ever careful your way around such that bad/disturbed people will never try to sue you without any real basis. There’s a point real quick where you harm your everyday operations in concrete ways in this quixotic effort to avoid hypothetical threats.

      1. Gail Davidson-Durst*

        Very well put! Especially when sane, reality-based people on the receiving end of discrimination have to make torturous calculations about whether it’s worth reporting, it’s unconscionable for HR to tiptoe around deplorable people just in case they might sue.

      2. Observer*

        What’s even stupider and more toxic is that in try so hard to not get sued, they actually open themselves up to even greater risks on the litigation front.

    2. OP*

      Yeah, that was another part of our heated discussion. He had been bold enough to say some pretty vile things in front of me, so I assumed it would only get worse or more violent from there.

      1. Formerly Arlington*

        Your employer was smart to nip this in the bud before this employee’s hate speech resulted in a PR crisis or lawsuit. I think you alone having to deal with this was unfortunate!!! Racism isn’t something anyone should have to deal with at work (or at all), and that’s true even if the racism is directed towards other people.

      2. Big Bank*

        I want to know how this guy made it through interviews and background checks though. He seems to wear his vile beliefs right on his sleeve, and couldn’t make it one day on the job. How’d he pull the wool over your hiring manager’s eyes long enough to get the offer?

    3. fposte*

      I know, right? If I’d been there and feeling argumentative, I’d ask for a quantitative measure on the racism threshold. How many N-words = firing, please. Asking for a friend.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        Also, do they all have to be said to/in the presence of the same person, or is it the total count? And are other slurs included in the count, or is it a separate count per slur?

        (For those who are not fluent in sarcasm: I am EXTREMELY disappointed in any company who thinks the maximum number of times it’s appropriate to use any slur is any number greater than zero.)

        1. fposte*

          Do some words have a double or triple word score? Can we set up the Excel sheet with the formulas so that the final cell turns red when we’ve reached threshold?

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            I think if any word were to have a double or triple word score, it would be that one.

    4. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

      “He hasn’t even brought in his guillotine! It’s not that serious yet!”

    5. mcr-red*

      Yeah saying something horrid 6 times and making OP uncomfortable IS rearing its ugly head at work!

      OP – couldn’t you make a case to your friend that he was creating a hostile work environment for you?

    6. Working Mom Having It All*

      Right? Like… what exactly would “rearing its ugly head” look like to the HR friend? Open discrimination? Hate crimes?

  6. AvonLady Barksdale*

    That friend is so backwards. His racism DID rear its ugly head at work, front and center, on his first day! It’s like she’s confusing dropping slurs outright with subtle microaggressions– not that the latter is ok, mind you, but that’s the only way I can make her comments make sense.

    If someone started at my company and dropped any kind of slur like that on his or her first damn day, I would hope my employer would act with as much or more immediacy as this one did.

    1. The Original K.*

      It’s like she’s confusing dropping slurs outright with subtle microaggressions– not that the latter is ok, mind you, but that’s the only way I can make her comments make sense.
      And usually it’s the reverse. People write off micro-aggressions as not really racist, or not racist enough or some sh*t, but most people recognize that saying the n-word (SIX TIMES) is racist. I … have questions for OP’s friend.

    2. OP*

      I think she was saying since he had never done anything to a POC that it hadn’t been racism, it was more of an unpleasant conversation. That since I’m white passing, it wasn’t ‘racism’ just hateful comments. RAcism is racism though, so I dont get her view in the slightest.

      I am very happy that Alison didn’t tell me her companies views on this were right and mine were wrong, because I may have just given up working all together.

      1. Oranges*

        Um… but no. That’s not how Racism works. My brain hurts because that’s like saying he didn’t poop ON your desk just NEAR it, therefore we can’t fire him for pooping in your office. Just…. no.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yeeeah, using a slur IS doing “something” to a POC, and it doesn’t even matter if a POC is standing in the room. If I were you, I would seriously reconsider your friendship with this person.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Yup. No way in hell would I be friends with someone who not only shrugs off racism like this, but then tries to double down on her stupid ass assessment of the situation by bringing in a third party to agree with her nonsense.

      3. sam*

        Oh, I get it now – she thinks that because he didn’t use the N-word TOWARDS an actual black person, then it wasn’t somehow as racist as just…using the N-word at work, amongst a bunch of people he didn’t know, who happened to not be black.

        He’s a fucking racist, and it’s precisely the fact that he feels “safe” expressing his EXTREMELY OVERT racism amongst people he thinks are like-minded simply because they’re not black that is part of the problem. It shouldn’t have to escalate even further to actual abuse of your black employees before he gets fired.

        1. fposte*

          And it really makes me think about what other complaints she’s refused to act on–are there regular misogynist slurs going on that are cool with her as long as other women don’t hear?

          Not to go all Maya Angelou quote, but come on–somebody who thinks it’s okay to do that at work is not going to be able to fairly work with, work under, or supervise people they are rapid-fire slurring down the hall.

      4. Boop*

        Racism doesn’t require the presence of a person of that race to be considered racism. Racism is one of the few things that CAN exist in a vacuum!

        As a white person I wouldn’t want this kind of language/attitude around my workplace either.

        Also, can someone give their thoughts on racism as a “political opinion”? That is just horrifying.

        1. Clisby*

          I suppose it’s possible to state a political opinion where people will disagree on whether it’s an expression of racism. Let’s say … an opinion on reparations for slavery. Or an opinion on whether the citizenship question should be asked on the US census.

          1. Jimmy James*

            You’re kidding me, right? You really want to equate opposing slavery reparations with racism? Some polls say that something like 89% of Americans oppose reparations.

            1. S*

              But 89% of Americans aren’t dumb enough to say that at work. If someone just decided to bring that up at work I’d side-eye the hell out of them too.

      5. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*


        No. No, that is not how that works. It isn’t okay to say some things to white folks as long as you don’t say it to POC. What is wrong with your friend?! Just like it isn’t okay for a dude to say really explicit stuff at work to other dudes about ladies as long as he doesn’t say it to ladies. JFC.

      6. Working Mom Having It All*

        Saying racial slurs at work IS “doing something”, though. Even if you thought you were saying them to a white person.

      7. A teacher*

        It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that some people have a very strange and narrow definition of racism.

      8. Arts Akimbo*

        She is so, so wrong, and I am very sorry for what you have learned about your friend because of this. Being subjected to the racist language was bad enough, but to learn that a friend does not have your back in the wake of it is a double injury.

  7. The New Wanderer*

    From the letter: “She seems to think we should have put him on a PIP and waited for his racism to rear its ugly head at work before acting.”

    Um, he already dropped the N word a half dozen times his first day. So what exactly does she think racism consists of?? Did she mean this didn’t count because he hadn’t been told by management in a PIP that it’s Not Okay to Use Those Words? Or did she mean he didn’t use those words directly to members of the targeted population so it doesn’t count?

    1. Rainy*

      I know these are typically old letters, but for the LW of that one, honestly I think that says something about their friend in HR that they don’t think using racial slurs is racism. It’s alarming for the organization this friend works for, and would be personally unpleasant enough that I’d be rethinking the friendship.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        There’s definitely a modern spin on racism that argues it’s all about the thoughts you think rather than the actions you take. And since we can’t know what’s in people’s hearts *poof* no racism.

        1. whingedrinking*

          I have had far too many arguments with people who believe that it is impossible for a person to be, for example, sexist, unless they make explicit statements to the effect of “Women aren’t as good as men” or “I hate women”. (I believe it was graciously allowed that someone could be sexist and just *think* these things, but then how would we ever know?!)
          I said okay, we can define sexism that way if we really want to, but now we need a new word. Because we’ve still got people saying things like “But it’s *biology* that periods make you irrational” or “I won’t let my daughter date until she’s fifty-seven” or “it’s kind of a boys’ club, you just wouldn’t fit in here”. And those people do not wake up every day and think, “I’m an eeeeeevil sexist douchebag, mwahahaha!” They wouldn’t say, “I hate women and think they suck.” And those people are way more common, and probably doing far more damage on the whole, than the relatively small minority in the Get Rid Of Slimy girlS club. Declaring that the problem isn’t sexism doesn’t make it not a problem.

    2. voyager1*

      To me that is even worse. “Oh hey you posted this stuff online here is a PIP just so you know you can’t do that here.” To me this is someone scarred of some kind of blowback for firing a racist and yet wants to keep a paper trail that they know the employee is a racist. The employer really can’t have it both ways. AND this is before even taking account the 6 times he dropped a N-word. Seriously people just need to fire people for this kind of crap and not over think it.

  8. Dot Warner*

    OP, you don’t say whether or not this person’s job required any contact with the public, but if it did, point out to your HR friend that that’s a good reason to fire someone who says racist things. I work at a hospital, and if an employee was found to have posted racist things on social media, I’d want that person fired because I’d worry that they’d provide inadequate care to our patients who are PoCs.

    1. PollyQ*

      Even if the job involved no public contact, the employer is still liable for any racial harrassment that’s done to its own employees. Firing someone who started his employment by repeatedly dropping the n-word is just good business sense, even setting aside the moral issue.

      1. Dot Warner*

        That’s certainly true too! I pointed out the customer aspect because OP’s HR friend didn’t appear to have considered that.

  9. GoodDawn*

    Your friend is why black people/people of color still have to put up with this nonsense in the workplace in 2019.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      It is a wonder how many companies seem to believe that they cannot fire anyone for anything. Poor performance, racist rants, stealing all the toner, defenestrating the head of marketing.

      1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

        If I could hold on to my job post-defenestrations, there would be no windows left in our building.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        Technically, as long as something is set up for the head of marketing to land on, it’s not an issue, right? Right? /s

    2. OP*

      Absolutely, her lack of training is quite appalling. She is a person of color as well, so that’s what really threw me for a loop.

      1. Black Targaryen*

        It’s sad to me that a WOC would view the situation this way. But as they say, “not all skinfolk are kinfolk!”

      2. BadWolf*

        Perhaps she’s been burned by reporting things and getting them hand-waved away? So maybe jaded about what’s a “sure thing” on the work reporting front?

        1. BadWolf*

          Rereading my comment, my tone might come off as defensive or unpleasantly sarcastic. I meant it as genuinely guessing at reasons and also feeling sad that might be the case.

      3. CM*

        Wow, to me that changes her views from appalling to profoundly sad. Saying that somebody should not face any consequences for openly hateful behavior means that she believes repeatedly saying racial slurs at work is acceptable in our society and in her workplace. The “racism PIP” especially… just, what??

      4. Observer*

        That actually does explain her opinion that it’s nor racism if it didn’t happen to a black person.

        The logic that leads to that conclusion is twisted and perverse, but I’ve seen it before.

      5. Jennifer*

        On second thought, you said person of color, not black. Anti-black racism is something that happens fairly frequently among non-black POCs. That’s why sometimes it’s important not to put all POCs in the same basket because sometimes we face different issues. Not saying that’s the case with your friend, just that it’s a possibility.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Thank you. Other minorities oftentimes handwave racism against black people because they don’t really like us either. As long as the bigotry isn’t aimed at them, they don’t give a shit.

      6. anon1*

        Unfortunately anti-Black racism is rampant in other POC communities. :\ POC as a term is problematic in that it lumps all minority experiences in one neat package when the difference in treatment even within a race or ethnicity varies (SE Asian vs East Asian, light-skin AA vs dark skin AA, non-white Hispanic vs white Hispanic, colorism in general, although this is rooted in anti-Black sentiment as well). Now if this woman is black herself, that’s something else with a yikes on top.

        Anyways, don’t understand why people can’t just be decent to each other. Bringing each other down doesn’t lift anyone up.

      7. smoke tree*

        Yikes. I wonder if she works in a really toxic environment and has absorbed a bunch of their assumptions. It’s really troubling for her and other employees there if this is the kind of line their HR takes.

  10. The Original K.*

    I know this isn’t the point of the letter, but I’d kind of love to see a racism PIP.

  11. Arctic*

    Even a government entity, which has somewhat stricter standards concerning free speech with their employees although still quite a lot of ability to regulate it, could fire an employee over this. It’s hard to imagine a situation in the US where you couldn’t. Maybe a union situation where you have to give everyone a hearing regardless. But, in that case, it’s just about providing the appropriate process in the contract. Not suggesting this wouldn’t be a fireable offense in and of itself.

    Also, what does a PIP have to do with anything? Your expected performance over the next 90 days is to… not be racist? That’s really for performance issues.

    Honestly, people get fired for less every single day.

    1. Arctic*

      Oh and even if there was some totally bizarre workplace where saying the N word repeatedly on the first day and being openly racist on Social Media (which could reflect on the organization) weren’t fireable offenses. Typically even in union work places or the government there is a probation period where you could be fired for almost anything.

  12. iglwif*

    Yikes. That is … wow, that is a take. If dropping the n-word SIX TIMES on his FIRST DAY wasn’t “his racism rearing its ugly head”, what would be? Like, is the friend suggesting waiting until he starts painting swastikas on the walls or burning crosses outside his Black co-workers’ cubicles?

    And let’s also remember, OP found all this horrifyingly racist content *on the dude’s public twitter feed*, and OP went looking because of what dude said to them at work. He’s not secretly racist in the privacy of his own home, he’s racist right out there in public … and in the office.

    Kudos to you, OP, and to your employer. Y’all definitely did the right thing!

    1. Anonny*

      It ain’t just reared it’s head, it’s struck and sunk it’s venomous fangs into the nearest bit of exposed flesh!

  13. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is another lesson in remembering that being in HR doesn’t mean you “know” much about employment laws or much outside of what your company policies on things are. You rely on lawyers in the end, not your HR generalist. HR is just there to catch issues but there are countless stories about HR dropping the ball and not catching things prior to them ending in massive lawsuits.

    The fact that they just dropped the racist slurs in the work place itself shows that they’re openly discriminating, it’s in an employers best interest to not allow that behavior due to the bad PR but also the fact that it can lead to a harassment or discrimination case, since race and ethnicity are protected classes. As a company you have to protect your employees from this kind of behavior from everyone else in the organization as well as outside sources that are brought into their lives due to their jobs.

    1. Zephy*

      That’s the thing that stood out to me when OP mentioned HR was worried about being sued or whatever. Bigotry isn’t a protected class!

      1. OP*

        Thank you! I said that maybe 100 times during our conversation. That branch of the company desperately needs more training (and dare I say, a new HR staff.)

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        The thing is that businesses are always at risk of a lawsuit. You can only protect yourself so much and otherwise, yeah you may very well be sued over just about anything!

        It’s all about calculated risks and getting the right advice from creditable attorneys. I’ll take the risk that Mr Klansman will sue for wrongful termination over having an openly racist person among my crew.

        It’s up there with the fear that you can never let someone go if you know they have an issue covered by the ADA. No, you really can. Just like I don’t have to make a reasonable accommodation [read just simply allow bad behavior] for someone with a say a medical condition that makes them throw staplers at people and call them awful names. Yet some untrained or poorly trained HR professionals would want to take the path of least resistance and just bury their heads in the sand first.

        Our attorney has drilled into our heads that burying your head in the sand isn’t an actual option if we really want to make sure we aren’t taken to the cleaners by a disgruntled person in the future!

        1. GreenDoor*

          Fear of a lawsuit….Ha! For something like this, I’m pretty sure our lawyer would be totally cool with this guy having to stand before the court and explain why he’s not a racist.

        2. Observer*

          You can get sued for pretty much anything. What you want to really be cautious about is not preventing frivolous lawsuits – which is impossible – but preventing LOSING a law suit. That’s doable in most cases.

      3. mcr-red*

        But couldn’t OP just as easily sue HR for hostile work environment if they didn’t get rid of nasty guy?

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Exactly the point in the end. And that one would most likely go further and end in a settlement, whereas “They fired me for using racist slurs!” is a case that gets thrown the Ef out.

          1. Observer*

            Funny – I just read about a case where a guy was investigated for harassment. He sued – he claimed that the investigations were discrimination based on his sex. Yeah, it didn’t get very far.

      4. smoke tree*

        It’s also baffling that anyone would see this as a case of discriminating against him for his political views, when it’s clearly his racist actions that got him fired. As soon as you turn your beliefs into actions, you have to be prepared to be held accountable for them.

  14. Anon for this*

    So here is a related question (possibly): what do you do if you work with people from another culture, and their ingrained cultural attitudes are causing work problems?

    I am in a STEM field which is very male and very Asian/South Asian/Middle Eastern and I have had massive issues with sexism and condescending arrogance (I’m female).

    I am sensitive to microaggressions and racism, but how do you deal with that? How do you go up to someone and tell them “This is America, women are equal here.” You just can’t.

    I can give examples if need be but I know I’m not the only woman to run into that because I used to commiserate with a STEM-employed female relative about the same issue.

    1. Lance*

      What about your boss? What about HR? First and foremost, I’d say go to one/both of them regarding these issues (presuming none of them are coming from either of these parties). Particularly if you can get people on your side regarding these issues (especially people of influence), I’d say you should absolutely be able to push back on it. Cultural upbringing aside, these people need to learn that this sort of behavior shouldn’t be tolerated.

    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      You leave out the “this is America” part. You say “in this workplace, and in the business world in general, that kind of sexist remark is NOT OK and WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. I need you to knock it off right now.” Because it doesn’t matter whether the person exhibiting this behavior is doing so because of an ignorance of cultural norms or an ignorance of workplace norms (and honestly, this s*** isn’t ignorance, it’s indifference): it’s wrong in the workplace no matter who is doing it.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You absolutely can say “in this workplace we expect and require you to be respectful to women and treat them the same way you treat men here and we won’t tolerate (fill in details).”

    4. Jennifer*

      You need allies. Men that will take a stand with you or report it like the OP did. I’ve found very few will actually step up.

    5. bleh*

      If you are experiencing micro-aggressions *from them*, you can file a harassment claim with HR, regardless of whether their behavior comes from a cultural background (allegedly) or the misogyny of whiteness club. You have rights too.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      Focus on the sexism. Leave the race, religion, national origin, etc of the perpetrators out of it.

      We adjust to all sorts of social norms when we shift locales. “My culture encourages standing on people’s feet as an okay way to show you are of higher rank” should be immediately dismissed as an excuse here, in the US, where said foot standing is not the cultural norm. And on the flip side, “You are doing A because you’re one of those group B people” is usually not a good line of argument for you to pose–it’s going to devolve into how you are stereotyping people in group B rather than objecting to action A. Focus on your objection to the action.

    7. Anonymous Poster*

      I worked in STEM (not anymore, but only a year out from that), and absolutely saw this. But full disclosure, I’m a man that was born in/grew up in the US. I’ve had coworkers that would regularly denigrate their female colleagues’ work, though full disclosure, the female colleagues’ work ran circles around this gentleman’s work. It wasn’t because of the cultural issue, it was simply his work output was wrong, and as I’m sure is true in your particular practice, wrong STEM output is simply wrong, regardless of any other factor.

      Sadly management did not do much about it. When asked, they said their HR practices precluded taking action against this gentleman because this gentleman was, in HR’s words, a ‘member of a protected racial minority’, so generally the women presented their work, he’d say it wasn’t right, and their manager would use the women’s work anyway. Yes, it’s messed up, and I know it’s not how the law works, but it’s how HR practices in that particular organization worked. At the end of the day, the women were the ones that were offered more opportunities and advancement.

      It’s not good management, in my opinion, to try to ‘manage out’ individuals, but it’s sadly what I’ve commonly seen in STEM organizations. I hope though, that generally your colleagues see that your work output is good, and recognize that. Internal organizational blamestorming helps no one, I know, but I have seen where this issue pops up, and women advanced while the perpetrator languished in a lower-level role.

      It’s not a good solution. But hopefully it’s a bit more hope than thinking you’re relegated to your role forever. It generally does get noticed, even if it’s incredibly frustrating.

      1. Properlike*

        Which goes back to a mistaken HR belief that people in a protected racial minority can’t be held accountable for violating workplace norms and/or legal requirements.

        1. robot*

          Also, employment discrimination in the US is banned on the basis of race and color, not on racial minority status. That means that it is definitely illegal to discriminate against any race, including white, and there’s not really any such thing as a protected racial minority. Obviously because of how racism works in the US, the majority of racial discrimination claims are going to be about minority groups being discriminated against, but the HR belief that there’s such a thing as a “protected racial group” and “non-protected” is incorrect.

      2. Anon for this*

        Sadly this is what happened with me too. I had an incident that I went up the chain with and was told that the man in question “was Asian and that is just how they do things there, he’s old, doesn’t speak English that well, didn’t mean anything by it…” So in essence the management waved away his behavior by pointing to his Asian-ness….

        Pretty screwed up.

    8. Lora*

      Also in STEM, also been there, and you definitely CAN tell people, “women are equal here, you need to stop this behavior” (unfortunately in my experience definitely not limited to recent immigrants either). In the larger companies I’ve worked for, with diverse populations and a lot of expats / H1b folks working for them, there is a solid half-day of New Employee Orientation where whoever drew the short straw in HR gets to lecture everyone on Appropriate Office Behavior, often with role playing and a somewhat embarrassing video.

      It often doesn’t work, unfortunately. But I’ve seen people get told very clearly, “I don’t know and don’t care what your background is, the company standards for your behavior are XYZ and you will follow them or be fired.” It’s just usually a message delivered by HR or senior management.

      1. CM*

        Please don’t say “here” or bring up people’s “background,” unless they have explicitly said, “In my country we do it this way!” You are likely to be making assumptions about their background, and you’re unnecessarily pointing out their foreign-ness. Just stick to the second part, “Company standards are XYZ and you will follow them.”

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Everyone has a background. My BF’s family is super white and has lived here forever, but his background is still that they’re a bunch of old-school sexists who think I should quit my job and keep house for him. He disagrees enough to at least stand up for me.

        2. Lora*

          What I’ve seen is actually the sexist person saying, “oh but it’s okay for me to do because where I’m from…” and that can be anywhere from the other side of the earth to SmallTown, USA. Sort of like, “it’s okay for someone old to do because Back In Ye Olden Tymes that’s how things were”.

          1. Observer*

            Sure, and then you say “But here it’s different.” If they bring it up, it’s fair game. But it’s not a good idea to bring it up.

        3. Delphine*


          You’re making assumptions that their behavior must stem from their culture, but they’re men and all men experience patriarchal socialization. It’s not as if white men or American men are significantly better at not treating women poorly in the workplace. Address their behavior and not their culture or race, because it opens you up to questions about where your criticism is coming from. If they respond with something about their culture, even then I’d say, “I’m sure that’s not true for everyone,” and reiterate that the behavior is unacceptable.

          1. Observer*

            even then I’d say, “I’m sure that’s not true for everyone,”

            Please do NOT do that. You really don’t know that it’s true. All you are doing is implying that you know more about their culture than they do.

            1. Close Bracket*

              We’re not talking about dyed egg patterns for Easter here. We’re talking about sexism (or racism). Yes, you do know that sexist attitudes aren’t true for everyone, and that includes American culture and Asian/South Asian/Middle Eastern cultures, Russian culture, and any that has entrenched patriarchal attitudes.

    9. CM*

      I’ve been in a similar situation.

      If they are your reports, I’d encourage you to say what Alison says below — it is a job requirement for them to treat colleagues with respect, and you’ve noticed them doing X and Y and they need to knock it off. Treat it as a performance issue.

      If they are your coworkers, a few things I tried — which you probably have too, but just in case it helps. Go to management if you think they would be sympathetic; come armed with concrete examples of times your coworkers made your life difficult and it affected the team’s work. (I had a coworker who would rewrite all my code!) Ask specifically for your manager to treat this as a performance issue and publicly shut this down if it happens in a meeting. With your coworkers directly, push back. Don’t smile, don’t use any softening language, take an assertive or even argumentative tone if you need to. Provide evidence for anything you say. Drop the “This is America,” but when they start being condescending, keep it work-focused, don’t be friendly, and challenge them on what they’re saying.

      (All of this sucks but I don’t know of a good solution to this problem other than culture change.)

      1. Anonymous Poster*

        I totally agree. The focus is absolutely on the inappropriate actions and performance. This is a great approach to the problem.

    10. alphabet soup*

      Agree with others to leave race/ethnicity/national origin out of it. Focus on the behaviors and explain why they are not OK in your workplace. I also work in STEM and I’ve encountered the same misogynistic views from the American men I’ve worked with, too. So, it’s not necessarily due to being from another culture.

    11. Don*

      “How do you go up to someone and tell them “This is America, women are equal here.” You just can’t.”

      You’re right, you can’t because now you’ve made it about their country of origin/ethnicity rather than their actions. And really it’s best not to assume that’s why they are that way, even if they explicitly defend it by saying to you “I am X and this is how we are.” Because bigots and sexists have been claiming a right to be that way because of their membership in a certain group for all of history, and because the why doesn’t matter. They can think whatever they want in the confines of their head, but out here they can and should be called out on their unacceptable behavior.

    12. Gazebo Slayer*

      I’d deal with it the same way I’d deal with sexist, arrogant crap from a white guy.

    13. Impy*

      Don’t phrase it as ‘this is America’. Say that their behaviour is unacceptable and escalate if they push back, same as you would with an American / European male who was being sexist and condescending. Your framing could be read as fairly racist tbh.

    14. Working Mom Having It All*

      Honestly, enough American-born white men have terrible attitudes toward women. In this case, I would handle it the same way as I would if the person in question were one of the many, many white men who participate in this sort of thing. Nothing you’ve said here implies that there’s a racial angle to it or that the problem with these men is the culture they grew up in.

      1. Close Bracket*

        “enough American-born white men have terrible attitudes toward women.”

        I was going to say exactly this. Americans ingrained cultural attitudes cause work problems. Sexism and condescension are universals. Deal with it the same way you would if it were someone born here saying these things.

    15. Anon for this*

      So this kind of blew up a bit and had I foreseen that I would have worded it a bit differently and sorry if I have offended.

      This actually is based on a real incident which I wrote to Allison about a couple years ago. It wasn’t actually me who “made it about race” and I would never tell someone “this is ‘murica” or anything.

      What happened was:
      – Asian man did a bunch of horribly sexist things.
      – I confronted him and he told me I was imagining things.
      – I went to The Powers That Be and complained.
      – TPTB told me that “Asians gonna Asian” and that I had no complaint.
      – I reached out to our union but they could not help.
      – I quit the job and started blabbing all over town and heard many similar stories, all from women and black men.
      – TPTB have the idea that “non-American” trumps “American” any day.

      It was one of those situations where you know in your heart something is wrong but you lack the words and the logic to express why.

      So the larger issue remains – what do you do when intersectionality fails you? Why is their logic wrong? How to convince them of that?

  15. SezU*

    Most employers have a 90-day or more probation period where you can let go for anything. This certainly rises to “anything.”

    1. OP*

      I could be wrong in my interpretation, but I work in an At-Will state too, so I believe we wouldn’t even need that probation period to fire him.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Correct, you would not.

        In fact, in any at-will state (which is 49 of them), you don’t need a reason to fire someone, as long as you’re not firing them for an illegal reason (like discrimination or for reporting harassment). That’s true even after a probationary period ends, although a company might have its own internal rules that say it won’t.

        1. hayling*

          Do probationary periods actually have any legal definition? Or is it more company policy – i.e. less internal bureaucracy to fire someone in their probationary period?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            No legal definition. It’s just however the company defines it — and yeah, it’s usually just less internal bureaucracy during that period.

          2. S-Mart*

            Depends on jurisdiction. In the US they’re company policy, but my understanding is that some areas require companies to follow their own written policies on things like this; such that it kinda becomes policy enforceable by law. I believe other countries (generally where employment contracts are more common) have legal definitions of probationary periods, but I have no expertise to back that belief up.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Right, if you pledge in your handbook that you will always (for example) warn people before firing them, that’s binding and you need to do it. Which is why most companies use wording like “may warn” rather than “shall warn.”

  16. Lazy River*

    It would open up greater legal liability not to fire the racist. If your POC employees complain of a hostile work environment, and management was aware that he was slinging racial slurs from day one, that’s not a good legal position for your company. I hope your friend in HR gets some good training soon.

    1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

      EXACTLY. It’s really worrisome that the HR friend is more focused on how the racist has been “victimized” by being fired rather than think about what his racism would do to the POC coworkers.

      1. Jennifer*

        Because that’s the typical talking point from people who hold that “political opinion.” Racists being banned from youtube or social media sites = “silencing conservative voices” in their minds. Their “free speech” is more important than the people who could be harmed.

    2. OP*

      I wish i could send her this whole thread. Every point I made during the convo is laid out here even more eloquently than I had originally said it. I thought the legal ramifications of allowing a known racist/violent person to run rampant would hurt us significantly more than him suing us. Not like any judge would take his side regardless.

      I hope she does too.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Please do send her the link! She needs to know this before she makes someone at her company work in a living hellscaoe because HR won’t fire racists!

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s not just the POC who can complain either.

      It doens’t have to directly effect you to be deemed hostile work environment.

      If I have to be subjected to it, if I have to hear it and see it, then I can lodge a complaint without being personally victimized by the bigotry. This is huge in sexual harassment issues too, just because two people love to dry hump each other in the breakroom doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. Same goes with being a racist in the end.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Thank you for the right term for it! I haven’t had that knowledge before and it helps.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, if I hear a coworker saying the N-bomb, you bet your bippy I’m taking that to HR. (I’m as white as I can be.) I don’t want to be around that even if it will never be directed at me.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah that word gives me a visceral reaction, I don’t even like shortening it or alluding to it, it is that awful.

          I’ve only joyfully fired one person before [sexist who was bad at their job, didn’t take direction because you know, lady parts vs dudebro parts etc] , firing a racist would be my second joyful termination, tbh.

  17. Anonny*

    I mean, even without the ethics of the thing, do you really want this guy screwing up your workplace? Like, not only is he a massive racist (causing distress to clients and coworkers), he shows really, really poor judgement. This is what probation periods are for, anyway.

    1. Angwyshaunce*

      That’s what was alarming to me – on top of the abhorrent views themselves, the willingness to air them so openly on the first day of work.

  18. Buttons*

    “He worked with me on his first day, where he dropped the N-word six times.”

    That right there is more than enough to fire someone. My company recently fired a guy who in one encounter with a group of people in the break room asked one person “Do you get hotter in the summer because you are so dark black?” and then to a second person who is a recent hire from India, he asked “Aren’t you glad you are out of that sh*thole?”
    Both of the people his questions were directed at went to HR as did 3 people who overheard it. Zero tolerance.

      1. Buttons*

        It is so appalling. I felt so bad for both of them- both fairly new college graduates and new to the workforce. I was so glad they had the guts to go to HR.
        I don’t want to get political, but having Trump as president has increased the number of such incidents. Sadly people now feel emboldened to say things they used to know to better than to say out loud. It makes me sick.

    1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

      “Do you get hotter in the summer because you are so dark black?”

      “Aren’t you glad you are out of that sh*thole?”

      One would argue that the real “sh*thole” is the place that raises these bigots to think these things are okay to say.

      1. Buttons*

        I cried after the young black man came to talk to me and asked me what to do. I was parting of his hiring team, he was in my new grad program, and I was the lead coach for his accountability group. Thankfully he trusted me enough to come to talk to me and ask for advice. He told me about the woman from India and what was said to her, so I reached out to her and encouraged them both to go to their HRBP. It truly makes me sick to my stomach and makes me question my decision to remain in the US for another few years.

        1. xxx9*

          I say this as a POC who has lived in various countries in Europe: it can be just as bad there and it’s crazy how many people don’t think they are racist/have said something incredibly racist or that you are too “sensitive” or that there is little racism and people are just playing the victim.

          YMMV, but it was so tiring being the only advocate sometimes – at least in the US, people can drum up some support.

          1. Buttons*

            I am not from the US and have lived in several countries and I have never encountered anything like what I have witnessed here since he was elected. Never. Nothing I witnessed in other countries come even close to the things that are being said and done here.

            1. Observer*

              Perhaps you’ve been lucky. I’ve seen plenty of racism and bigotry. And the worst I’ve seen (outside of the Middle East) has been in Europe.

              Take France, for instance. Have you heard the rhetoric of Marine LePen? Do you know that she came in second in the first round of French elections, and then got 39% of the vote in the second round?

              Have you seen what’s been going on in Germany? When a Police Chief can respond to the beating of a young Jewish man with the advice that Jewish men should refrain from wearing skull caps, that tells you something.

              I could go on. Bottom line is that whatever issues we have here – and they are serious and significant! – it’s just wishful thinking to say that we are that much worse than the rest of the world.

              1. Fortitude Jones*

                Yup. There is no utopia anywhere in the world for racial minorities – we get shit everywhere.

              2. Minocho*

                Oh, man, yeah.

                Japan, man. Goodness, the stuff I heard there. The stuff that was said to me there. The stories of what others experienced there…

            2. xxx9*

              Sorry if it’s not tactful and this question never can be but are you yourself a POC? (not a monolith for sure – way different encounters with prejudices all around) I ask because your perspective is very, very different on this issue if not and I had a reflexive defensiveness in the way your comment seemed to say “Your experiences are invalid – I personally have never seen it so this must not be the case.”

              Not having witnessed it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Non-POC say it’s gotten worse since he was elected but no, these people have always been here & been like this – you just get to see it now.

    2. Anonymouse*

      I will admit, behind this anonymous name, that I once asked a similar question about dark skin, but I was 7 years old and in second grade and had just learned about the light colors reflect heat/dark colors absorb heat. And I immediately got TOLD.

      1. Clorinda*

        Seven year old Anonymouse gets a pass. Everyone gets a pass up to about age 12, and I think that if a young person comes from a truly toxic background and doesn’t know better, they should get maybe three months of grace from co-workers and fellow students: One month to learn better, and two months to overcome bad habits, because habits are hard.
        Not this guy, though. If you’re active on Twitter, you’ve seen enough of the world or at least the internet to know better already.

  19. theletter*

    I’m no HR rep, but I seem to remember from our general workplace training videos that using racists slurs in the workplace was under the category of harassment that gets a person fired immediately. It’s not like being tardy or forgetting to fill an order, it’s hostile and harmful to fellow coworkers and customers.

  20. Falling Diphthong*

    As I recall, Charlottesville established that you can take time off, cross the continent, and only then hoist your pro-Nazi banner to march in a parade–and your employer can fire you.

  21. Anonymous Poster*

    The US is generally at-will employment, and political opinion in most jurisdictions is not a protected category.

    This is something that one absolutely can be fired for. Especially for using racial slurs in the workplace on this person’s first day.

    I generally am leery of politically-motivated boycotts or social-issues hiring/firing. However, this individual absolutely has crossed the line by dropping racial slurs in the workplace, and I’d have serious reservations they would be able to work in any reasonable fashion with some of their coworkers. I’d also have absolutely no doubt they would not appropriately recognize the contributions of their African-American coworkers, and would show this individual the door (to unemployment, not opportunity). This behavior is unacceptable.

  22. Jennifer*

    I am so sick of people using “political opinion” as an excuse for racism and xenophobia. I am frankly disgusted by this “entry-level HR” person’s opinion and my sympathies lie with any person reporting an incident of racism in the workplace to them. I applaud the OP’s company for taking swift action. This guy felt so comfortable dropping racial slurs so many times because he usually gets away with it. Those are his “political opinions” after all and he says them around people that he assumes either agree with him or won’t speak up when he does it. Good for the OP for speaking up and being one of the few good allies to POCs out there.

    1. Sister Spider*

      I mean, my eyebrows went all the way up when the HR friend said “his racism is part of his political opinion”. Peak 2019.

    2. sam*

      If it had been something less…overt, I could see where that sort of analysis might have to be done. Perhaps a discussion around a political topic like immigration, where there can be a variety of legitimate views about what policy should be, but also can devolve into heated rhetoric, and even (yes) racism – depending on what was said and how any argument may have developed, the onus might be on HR to figure things out in the aftermath and not immediately fire someone.

      But…dropping the N-word six times on your first day? just…NO.

      1. Jennifer*

        I guess that’s possible. Someone that wants stronger border security isn’t necessarily racist or even anti-immigration, but I’ve heard people who claim to just hold strong opinions on immigration policy resort to racist tropes, like saying that all immigrants come from s***holes or that they are all freeloaders that went free stuff from the government.

  23. PN*

    “This dude can think whatever he wants and feel however he feels. But there are consequences to what he says to people and what he puts out into the world on social media, and your employer was on solid ground in deciding not to tolerate it.”

    But those are two different things.

    He’s a racist because of what he thinks and feels, but if he never acts that out on those beliefs, it’s hard to argue that they should be fired for being who they are, anymore than someone should be fired for being liberal in their political beliefs, or conservative, or a Yankees fan, or for having blue as a favorite color.

    Where he crossed the line was acting in a racist way, first through his public statements online, then on his behaviors in the workplace on his first day.

    1. anon1*

      > He’s a racist because of what he thinks and feels, but if he never acts that out on those beliefs, it’s hard to argue that they should be fired for being who they are

      One, I’d like to give the man more credit and think this is a learned behavior and not inherent to his being. Two, being a racist =/= being a Yankees fan or your favorite color being blue or being a liberal or being conservative – these are false equivalences. None of those things, in theory, actively degrade a whole group of people. Having bigoted thoughts will always translate to bigoted behavior, even if it doesn’t manifest into saying slurs or Twitter posts, because if you see someone else as inferior or buy into stereotypes, that is how you are setting up and framing every interaction with people from that group.

      In the end, he has to understand that as a society, we have are moving towards not calling people horribly degrading slurs regardless of if he is actually going to burn a cross on someone’s lawn. This will hopefully be a wake-up call. Likewise, he might probably think he is a “victim.” I sincerely hope this man changes his behavior though.

      1. Jennifer*

        “Having bigoted thoughts will always translate to bigoted behavior, even if it doesn’t manifest into saying slurs or Twitter posts, because if you see someone else as inferior or buy into stereotypes, that is how you are setting up and framing every interaction with people from that group.”

        Exactly this. I don’t know why people don’t get this.

    2. Don*

      “He’s a racist because of what he thinks and feels, but if he never acts that out on those beliefs, it’s hard to argue that they should be fired for being who they are”

      This is absolutely true only so far as if someone is having racist thinks and feels… and then never ever ever opening their mouth/web browser and then shares them with the world. The moment they start talking racist stuff, in person or online, they ARE acting out those beliefs. Dude wasn’t writing this stuff in a journal he kept under his mattress. He was saying it in the workplace and publishing it for others to see. Which they did, because he put it under his own name in an easily findable way.

    3. Morning reader*

      PN, I don’t understand your phrasing as you appear to be disagreeing with the advice, when you actually agree with it. “Dude can think or feel, comma, BUT…” sentence construction shows that these are indeed two different things, thoughts vs. actions.

      1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

        I need several copies of this one for the men in my family, unfortunately =__=

    1. Cass*

      We need to see at least a 60% reduction in racial slurs within the first week; 75% by the end of week 2; complete elimination of racial slurs by week three or we’ll need to start the PIP over again.

  24. xxx9*

    This HR rep should be ousted as well. A racist is a liability to the company – most employees are expected to interact with a variety of people as part of their work and to be civil. This guy dropped the n-word SIX times on his first day – this would have exploded in everyone’s face eventually. Honestly don’t know how this would ever amount to wrongful termination (if this not in an at-will state or outside USA), if that’s what this HR rep is worried about- telling someone not to use racial slurs and not wanting to deal with someone who drops them like it’s ok is not suppressing political beliefs.

    1. Lance*

      In some (fairly minor, because they better learn soon) fairness, OP’s friend is entry-level, so it could be understandable that they wouldn’t necessarily know this yet. I’m not sure how they’d be ousted; I get the feeling that they work at an entirely different company, though I could be wrong about that.

      Besides, rather than being ousted, I’d rather let them know first that they’re not correct in this particular stance, and see where it goes from there.

      1. xxx9*

        My tendency to speak in hyperbole is bad, my apologies – I just meant she is not being super at what should be her job (esp if this guy happened to be hired at her company now that he’s on the search again) and needs a very stern talking to by her friend, who correctly identified this as Very Bad For Many & Obvious Reasons. It can get her in some hot water in the future if someone doesn’t inform her they all work in an at-will state (LW explains this in another comment) and that racism is bad for morale & PR & is probably against company policy.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      The very junior HR person isn’t at the company in question. She can learn. (Or just absorb that HR is going into this meeting with a lawyer, and the lawyer’s opinion on what will keep the company from getting sued wins.)

  25. Curious*


    What if the person had not said anything racist in the workplace, but someone had found his social media posts? Would his social media content be grounds for termination?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author


      Exceptions would be if you’re in a jurisdiction that protects political speech (and doesn’t make an exception for hate speech, which most do) and the speech could be argued to be more political than outright racist. Which isn’t really that fine of a line.

    2. Lance*

      Particularly if it’s as bad as OP suggests: definitely yes. Not only because it’s putting a bad image out there if anyone knows this person, and knows they work at OP’s company, but risk management in preventing racist incidents at work from someone apparently comfortable with being very openly racist.

    3. Willow*

      This is why you at least do a cursory check on social media for anyone you’re interviewing. Five minutes can save you from a lot of hassle.

      1. OP*

        In their defense, his twitter page wasn’t with his name. The only reason I was able to identify him was because twitter told me that his phone number was connected to a twitter account when I synced my contacts to my app. It was quick to find racist tweets, but it took me a bit of scrolling before I saw a tweet showing that he was relocating to my area for a new job from his original state. Once I saw that though I knew I had him.

        1. Willow*

          That definitely would have made it more difficult to find beforehand. Good thing you caught it, though, and kudos for bringing it to the attention of your employer.

        2. Foreign Octopus*

          Total congratulations on getting rid of the racist. Seriously kudos.

          I just have to say that your last sentence here “Once I saw that though I knew I had him.” sounds like the voiceover on a lifetime movie, and I’m loving it. I’m seeing your Veronica Mars-ing your way through his Twitter feed with a glass of wine at your side and, for some reason, no lights on because no one ever turns the overhead on during these things.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      The white people involved in the viral videos of “white person calling 911/drawing a gun on/yelling epithets at POCs” do tend to get fired, even when it has nothing to do with their job. (Exception for the park ranger who pulled a gun on a couple, she was on duty but severely crossed the line by threatening these people.)

      1. Don*

        Campground manager, not park ranger. Not to defend it, just to clarify if anyone goes looking for it.

    5. Observer*


      A number of years ago it came out that some NYC Firefighters were taking part in seriously racist floats – all on their own time. Mayor Giuliani ordered them fired immediately. They sued. Giuliani fought back and eventually the case ended with the firing upheld. The city would have taken it to the Supreme Court – Giuliani actually said that the only way these guys ever get back on the force is if the Supreme Court ordered it.

      1. Clorinda*

        Wow. That’s a blast from the past. Look at Giuliani now! Corruption: It’s more than a metaphor.

  26. Dust Bunny*

    If your friend things that dropping an N-bomb six times on the first day at a new job doesn’t count as “racism rearing its ugly head”, then I’d like to know just what she thinks qualifies. And I’d have some serious questions about her own views.

  27. iglwif*

    Coming back with a further thought, inspired by the title of this post.

    This dude was not fired for “being racist”, like it’s some kind of persecution for thought crime. He could’ve been as racist as he wanted in his opinions and thoughts, and heck, even on private social media, and not gotten fired; he got fired because he couldn’t keep those opinions and thoughts to himself, he had to share them with his brand-new co-workers and the whole-ass internet.

    So he was not fired for being racist, he was fired for saying and doing racist things in public and on company time & property, and there’s really no defence for that as far as I can see.

  28. A Simple Narwhal*

    Good for your company for taking swift action.

    And someone who has to be on a PIP on their first day for any reason is not someone who should be employed at that job.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      This is a simple but really good point–PIPs are not for the first day of work.

  29. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    An important caveat is a distinction between government employers and private sector employers. A government employer can’t fire you for your racist views, but can fire you for violating workplace policies around harassment, discrimination, or professionalism/civility provided that those policies are clear, consistently applied, and otherwise consistent with the law (First Amendment and Title VII are the big ones).

  30. President Porpoise*

    I’m interested in the fact that OP’s HR friend thinks racism is something that can be managed out of someone using a PIP. That’s really beyond the scope of that tool, or really, workplace coaching and improvement. Conversely, if she views a PIP as just a box to be checked before firing someone, she’s missing the point of PIPs entirely. She is really a novice HR person. What does she propose? HR sitting on its hands while the new hire potentially causes the company reputational problems and causes coworkers and clients emotional distress? That’s completely useless.

    1. Oranges*

      That’s what I was thinking. They have the idea the “PIP Box” must be checked before firing. Which… no. No it doesn’t. I’m curious what would happen in her friend’s work place if the new guy had deliberately set the office on fire. PIP for arson?

    2. Lazy River*

      Right, like if he shit on the floor on day 1, would she put him on a PIP for that? “Here at XYZ Corp. we do not condone shitting on the floor and need you to reduce your floor shitting to “rarely or never” in the next 90 days.”

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I like to picture him stealing all the consumables from the break room on his first day, barricading himself in with the photocopiers, and then blasting a heavy metal version of Le Marseillaise over the intercoms while he snorted powdered creamer off spilled toner packets.

        “We have a PIP for that.”

        1. President Porpoise*

          Well, that specific scenario is not documented in the company handbook, so at most, we can only give him a warning.

          1. LizB*

            And it doesn’t say in the rules that he shouldn’t spend his work hours teaching his dog to play basketball, so…

        2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          Where does one get a copy of a heavy metal version of Le Marseillaise? I think I may need this. (For personal use, of course, not blasting over the intercoms.)

    3. OP*

      She didn’t recommend the PIP, her boss did when she was discussing our conversation with her in an attempt to prove me wrong. She thinks that because I don’t have HR in my title that I should take her statements as fact. When in reality all she proved to me was that her HR department is a colossal joke.

      1. President Porpoise*

        Wow. That’s even worse. Is her boss pretty senior in the HR department, or is she low/mid level management?

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This is appalling. That boss needs a “learn how employment laws work” PIP.

      3. New Jack Karyn*

        Is there any chance at all that the senior HR person did not hear the bit about the N-word, and only heard about the social media posts? That’s the only way it makes even the slightest bit of sense.

    4. Sharrbe*

      Exactly. Waiting until a video of employee hurling racist remarks at work to go viral is not a good strategy for dealing with this.

  31. MonteCristo*

    Some people seem to be of the opinion that someone has to be told explicitly not to do something, before you can hold them responsible for the action. I’m guessing that’s what is prompting a response like this. I, however, belief that if you don’t already know you shouldn’t behave this way, being told otherwise isn’t going to help much. I love the employers immediate response to this.

    1. twig*

      “Well, I know it’s not in the handbook, but next time don’t set the office on fire because you’re frustrated. we’re going to put you on a PIP to work on your coping skills”

    2. Buttons*

      This made me think of George from Seinfeld “Was that wrong? Should I have not done that? I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon, you know, ‘cause I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I tell you people do that all the time.”

    3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Yes, this is something a lot of places I’ve worked did.

      “OK, so Fergus has been showing up 2 hours late every day, and you need him to arrive on time. First, send out a mass email to everyone on staff telling them that they all need to be at their assigned post when their shift starts. Then, you need to go around and talk to them about how important it is that they are on time, and have them sign a copy of the late policy. Next, anyone who is even one second late in the next month needs to have a corrective action form submitted, so Fergus cannot complain that we’re applying the policy unevenly or discriminating against him for being the only Pastafarian on staff. Finally, after all those steps, you can put Fergus on a PIP.”

  32. LoV*

    Just as an aside, employing a racist is potentially a huge liability risk for an employer as well. It’s in the company’s interest to fire a racist.

    1. Boobookitty*

      I agree. What came to mind for me was that HR person got a job when there are many fantastic and deserving graduates who can’t find employment in their field.

  33. PersephoneUnderground*

    (Disclaimer: haven’t read all the other posts so apologies if this repeats something that’s been said already)
    Not only *can* a company fire someone for racist speech at work (or at home), but they’re likely *legally obligated* to fire him because they have a legal obligation to protect all employees from a hostile work environment based on their protected class. So glossing over his behavior and allowing it to continue after they knew about it would be actively against the law, because they know he’s doing things (openly using racial slurs) that could create the actual legal definition of a hostile work environment. Doing nothing at that point would make them liable. This is from my basic knowledge of discrimination law, so it’s a summary, IANAL, but I think it’s consistent with what Alison has posted on those topics in the past.

    1. robot*

      Also not a lawyer, but I believe you’re only mostly correct here.

      As soon as the employer knows or should have known of the harassment, they have to take corrective action.
      See some guidance from the EEOC here: “An employer is liable for harassment by a supervisor if the employer failed to take reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct the harassment or if the harassment resulted in a tangible job action (termination, demotion, less pay, etc.)… An employer is liable for harassment by co-workers or non-employees if it knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt corrective action.”

      That isn’t the same as obligated to fire him, although I do think that’s the most sensible course of action here. It’s also not clear whether this amount of racial slurs, actually rises to the level of a hostile work environment. Based on the severity and frequency, I think you could argue that it does, even though it’s only been one day. But even assuming it does, immediately putting him on a performance plan, or providing him with a clear warning and only later escalating to further consequences, would probably also meet the employer’s obligation under the law.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        Thanks- that’s exactly what I was thinking of. I was conflating firing with “corrective action” here, mostly because in this situation firing was the easiest solution. But you’re correct that it’s not required. The misunderstanding of the law by OP’s friend is really staggering here considering the only law on this situation is definitely not on this guy’s side.

  34. Airy*

    I’m so glad OP had the confidence to report this to HR and frankly thrilled that they dealt with it without delay. That kind of response leaves you feeling SO much better about your employer.

    1. OP*

      Yep! I was expecting them to take it seriously, because we are a small company (and I think that puts even more pressure on us to act, since it cant get easily swept under the rug like in a huge company with 10000 moving pieces) and the fact that my boss is a great guy. But the fact they did an investigation and got the lawyers involved less than 2 hours after I told them and showed them the tweets and he was fired before work the next morning was just *chef’s kiss* amazing.

      Very proud of this company.

      1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

        “…they did an investigation and got the lawyers involved less than 2 hours after I told them and showed them the tweets and he was fired before work the next morning was just *chef’s kiss* amazing.”

        I would have needed a cigarette afterwards.

        And I don’t even smoke.

  35. OysterMan*

    My favorite saying re: US employment law is you can’t fire someone for any reason but you can fire someone for no reason. Slightly unrelated, but anyway…

    Kudos for the way the company handled it. Dropping that word during work would have been enough for me. I’m generally uncomfortable with someone’s online life bleeding into work life, but if you’re identifiable enough in your social media that someone can connect you to your workplace, then the company should be concerned with your visible connection to them.

    I had this conversation with a friend recently regarding language in the workplace. It started when I mentioned the Queer community, and he was surprised I’d use that word, not knowing that it is now the preferred term for many in the LGBTQIA+ community. He mentioned it can be hard for people to keep up with the quickly changing zeitgeist.

    I’m very open to giving people a second chance after educating them. (I came from a small town where racial and other slurs were common language. I was fortunate not to use them in conversation before I discovered that they are slurs when I left my small town. People may genuinely not understand that certain words, phrases, and actions aren’t acceptable. They need the opportunity to be educated in a matter and be given one more chance.)

    But that one word… In this day and age I can’t believe there’s anyone left who doesn’t understand that you don’t say that word, especially in the workplace in the US.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      Yeah, we’re not talking about someone who doesn’t know that “transgender” is now preferred to “transgendered”, or that using terms like “psycho”, “spazz”, etc are inadvisable. We’re talking about the N word. Everyone knows that’s not appropriate, and that it’s a slur.

  36. Lily B*

    An openly racist employee is a huge liability for the company’s reputation. And damage to a reputation impacts the bottom line (think of United Airlines, Lululemon). Unless their speech or behavior falls into a protected class, employees can be fired for posting far less awful and embarrassing things on social media because it’s a threat to the firm’s reputation.

  37. HailRobonia*

    We also have freedom of assembly. It doesn’t mean you can hold a Klan rally in your workplace conference room.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Argh, I sadly had to explain the right to assemble to a bunch of youngsters at Pride awhile back because they were shook by the “you sinners, gonna rot in the fire pits” garbage that falls under such protections. [But in turn, those people could also lose their jobs if they worked for employers who didn’t agree with their POV, most of them seem to work for themselves or for organizations that also are hateful, go figure…]

  38. Phillip*

    Racism’s attempted rebrand as “differing political views” is disturbing. I don’t think framing it that way from an HR perspective or otherwise would have happened ten years ago.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not at all. Right to work laws are about whether you can be required to join a union. I think you’re thinking about at-will employment. In any at-will state (which is 49 of them), you don’t need a reason to fire someone, as long as you’re not firing them for an illegal reason (like discrimination or for reporting harassment).

      1. The Golden State*

        How would California law (which generally prohibits firing employees for expressing political opinions) apply? Is there an exception for hate speech?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      “Right to work” is a bad name for that legislature, it gives people the wrong impression. It’s simply the right to work without being forced to join a union. Not the right to work, despite your opinions.

  39. Gay Tridentine Catholic Buzzcut Rastafarian*

    Who is in charge of deciding what exactly is and is not hate speech?

    I don’t like it when conservatives attempt to dictate what I can and cannot say. I don’t like it when liberals/progressives attempt to dictate what I can and cannot say.

    Speaking very specifically here as an American, YMMV in other nations: the more and more I see a large part (maybe/possibly/probably a majority??) of people in our country being willing to have their fundamental right to free speech chipped away at, the less and less willing I am to go along.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      “Free speech” does not give you the right to say everything you want in any place you want without consequences. If you come to my home and call me a k**e, I’m going to tell you to shut your mouth and get out of my house. If you did the same in my office, I would tell you to shut your mouth and then I would request that you be fired. Neither of these scenarios violates your right to free speech, you can just go and free speech away from me, thank you very much.

    2. Anonymous Poster*

      I understand your point, and get concerned when accusations about someone’s mental state of being gets thrown around, because sometimes I can’t control what I think, much less can an external entity. I think there is a lot of benefit when people are able to express themselves freely, as when views are out in the open, they tend not to fester and foment even worse situations. It allows for a nation to better address people who identify as being a part of disaffected groups (I use that verbiage to capture anyone who truly is disaffected, and those who believe they are while others disagree), as without them being able to express their viewpoints, their views cannot be discussed nor considered and given appropriate, if any, weight.

      There’s a difference between that, though, which is much more high minded and societal, and a person waltzing into a workplace and on the first day dropping down some widely-recognized racial slurs not once, but 6 times. There’s a difference between holding an opinion and expressing it respectfully in an appropriate setting, and behaving in the manner described in this letter. Because of that, this company certainly took the right action in dismissing this individual.

    3. Phoenix*

      In no way is “facing reasonable consequences for using the n-word ***at work***” an erosion of free speech rights.

    4. Lazy River*

      Say whatever you want. No one is trying to throw this guy in jail. But if you say racist things people might think you’re a racist and decline to exchange money for your labor. *shrug*

    5. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Hm. As a response to a letter about a well-known and universally recognized racial epithet with a long history of vile (& violent ) use, this is *such* an odd comment to make.

      You are free to hurl whatever racial epithets you like wherever you want. No one is saying you “can’t” say it. Just don’t be surprised if no one wants to associate with you – there are social costs to being a horrible person.

      (Also, please do some basic reading on what exactly your “fundamental right to free speech” is, because your comment indicates you don’t know.)

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        This why I can’t stand that devil’s advocate nonsense – people think they’re so evolved and enlightened by taking stances like this, but what they’re really doing is showing their extreme ignorance.

        1. Boobookitty*

          As soon as I hear someone (generally an @sshole) say “I’m going to play devil’s advocate…” my brain wanders somewhere else.

    6. Holly*

      I don’t really understand this – no one dictates what anyone is allowed to say. If you decide to say something that ia offensive or otherwise inappropriate for work, that will impact how others see you professionally and/or socially, and may have consequences.

    7. Bend & Snap*

      I think you’re confusing someone being “in charge” with something being socially acceptable.

      Racial slurs are not socially acceptable. Conforming to social standards is not a new thing.

    8. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


      Your fundamental right to free speech is not being chipped away. You can say pretty much whatever you want. Other people always have had and always will have the right to react accordingly. The legal limitations on free speech are pretty narrow and generally pretty reasonable (eg conspiracy, harassment, threats of violence. Even slander and libel are iirc civil issues, not criminal).

      There are things you have the right to say, but are probably not a good idea to say. Such as busting out racist slurs at work, for one example, or telling your idiot coworker just how much of an idiot he is, for another example.

      Having the right to do something =/= being right in doing it. Period.

    9. Tinker*

      There is no official committee.

      That said, I think I can safely say that six times is too many times to use the N-word on your first day of work, and I am pretty okay with treading on opposing views regarding that point.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        To be precise, I think I can safely say that six times is *six times* too many to use the n-word on your first day of work.

    10. Choux*

      You “can” say pretty much anything you want, but you’re going to face consequences from work/society. Free Speech doesn’t have anything to do with that.

      Language changes, thank God. What was accepted yesterday may not be accepted tomorrow. You may love calling women “broads” but I’m a woman and if you call me a broad, I’ll likely never want to be around you again. I can’t stop you from calling women “broads”, but I’ll do everything in my power to not have to hear you call me one.

    11. Don*

      The thing that is mostly being chipped away in our society is the fundamental right of white dudes to do and say any damned thing that they want without consequence. The problem is that it’s only been chipped at, not blasted apart and the pieces ground to dust.

    12. Gazebo Slayer*

      Nice concern trolling. You even threw in a classic “both sides do it” argument.

    13. Alex the Alchemist*

      It’s not taking away anyone’s free speech to decide that it’s socially unacceptable to use racial slurs. In fact, the company is using its own free speech in this case to say, “Nah, we don’t want someone who uses the n-word on a regular basis working for us.” It works both ways.

    14. Moocowcat*

      Free speech does not equal being free from the consequences of what you shouted from a metaphorical picnic table.

    15. Sharrbe*

      No one is dictating what you can and cannot say. You can say anything you want. What you’re really angry about is that you want other people to passively accept what you have to say without judgement or pushback. Your right to “free speech” ensures that you aren’t thrown in jail or censored by our GOVERNMENT because of what you say. “Free speech” does not mean that I have to listen to, or give careful consideration to, anything that you say that I find morally repugnant. I can’t throw you in jail for saying racist things, but I sure as heck can tell you to f-off and walk away. So can an employer. You aren’t being denied your speech, you just have to live with the after effects.

    16. seejay*

      So what you’re trying to say is that you want to be able to use racial slurs and other awful words that are hurtful and loaded with historical violence and not have anyone actually call you out on it?

    17. some dude*

      He wasn’t getting fired because he called someone “latino” instead of “latinx” or wore a MAGA hat. He was using a term that, when used by white people, is universally considered offensive, and has been for at least the last 100 years.

      The government is literally trying to pass laws that will allow people to be deported without due process. The president is giving speeches to racist trolls in which he uses coded and not so coded racist language. His immigration policy is written by a white supremacist. A few liberal arts students freaking out about hate speech is really not the most pressing threat to liberty in this country at this moment.

    18. I AM a lawyer*

      I had someone try to convince me to not provide appropriate training in a harassment workshop on how to treat trans people in the workplace, because “something something Jordan Peterson something slippery slope.” I declined because I don’t choose what the law is. I also disagree. In my view, harassment and discrimination are far more harmful than someone having to keep racist thoughts to himself in the workplace.

    19. fposte*

      Say whatever you want, as long as it’s legal. Just don’t expect people to pay you to work for them.

    20. Mia*

      Your right to free speech protects you from governmental censorship, not any and all negative consequences of what you say. So, say whatever you please, but be prepared for people, including employers, to react accordingly.

    21. Observer*

      Which has exactly what? to do with this situation?

      No one is suggesting that this guy be arrested for his bigotry. However, as noted numerous time on this thread, “freedom of speech” does not mean “freedom to say what you want without consequences”. If you lie about someone, they can sue you and win if they can prove damage. If you threaten someone, you can get arrested even if those threats are verbal. If you harass someone, you still face consequences, even if that harassment is verbal.

      A workplace has a legal and moral right to maintain a decent level of civility and comity. People should be able to come in to work without being treated like trash or subject to bullying, harassment or other mistreatment. A workplace has a moral obligation to take reasonable steps to insure that. And they have a LEGAL obligation to insure that people are not subject to mistreatment based on their race, religion or gender.

      Insisting that people do not use flamingly racist language is a perfectly reasonable way to insure that workplace fulfills these basic obligations.

    22. AnotherSarah*

      “Free speech” in the American context means freedom to criticize the government without retaliation. There are nuances, of course, and long debates in public and legal realms, but “free speech” doesn’t mean “consequence-free speech,” and never has.

    23. Morning reader*

      Actually I find this a perfect example of free speech working as it should. Some people think the purpose of giving everyone the right to speak freely is so that no one can tell them to shut up. Really, the purpose is to let everyone hear others’ points of view and them judge them accordingly. You can tell who the idiots are if you let them say whatever they want. They reveal themselves quickly.
      So, this guy revealed himself. He spoke freely. And then others around him judged his words and his character on the basis of his freely spoken words, and fired him. Pretty good system, in my opinion.

    24. Liane*

      For the (9,084 to the 12,347,603rd power) time: “Right of Free Speech,” in the USA, means the **Government** can’t prevent you saying/writing nearly anything you want.
      But there is no language in the First Amendment, or anywhere else in the Constitution, barring any private party from forbidding/objecting to your speech, or giving you consequences whether it’s dirty looks or firing.

    25. Librarian of SHIELD*

      But, like, why would a person *want* to say things that are even borderline hate speech? If you’re a kind person, you shouldn’t want to say things that will hurt other people. It’s not like racist, sexist, homophobic, or ableist slurs are frowned upon because they’re impolite. They’re frowned upon because they cause actual, real hurt to actual, real people. And if you’re a person who is interested in being a good citizen of the world, you shouldn’t want to cause that hurt. You should welcome people’s input on the kinds of language that cause them pain, because you should want to keep from contributing to that pain. We’re not saying “don’t say rude words.” We’re saying “don’t cause unnecessary pain to the real live human beings you share this planet with.” If you think that’s an overly restrictive ask, then I think we may have learned something about you just now.

      1. Perpal*

        This is the same thought I have when I see folks trying to rulemonger sexual consent – why would one accept anything other than enthusiastic participation as license to proceed?! Why try to do something to someone who isn’t in their right state of mind???

  40. Polymer Phil*

    I find it extremely hard to believe that anyone in 2019 would have casually dropped the N-word six times on their first day in a new job, even if they were privately racist. Either this story is BS, or the OP was deliberately egging him on and he took the bait (Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat act comes to mind).

    1. animaniactoo*

      Or he thought OP was his tribemate and misjudged his audience. I’ve been on the receiving end of that.

      1. Justin*

        (nods sadly)

        Men do this to me re: awful thoughts about women, and folks of all groups do it to me re: racist thoughts about groups that aren’t black (I’m black).

      2. Justme, The OG*

        As have I. The one I can remember most clearly was in 2014 with some dude I had know for four hours, max.

      3. OP*

        That’s for sure what he thought. He also moved from a deep south state to a much more diverse area so he must’ve been accustomed to speaking like that to his peers back home and assumed that was normal.

        1. PSB*

          Yep, everyone here in the south goes around casually using the N-word in the workplace. We don’t even bat an eye. Totally normal. We also marry our cousins and fry all of our food.

          1. Liane*

            Reading this as sarcasm, because it sure wouldn’t fly with me, or anyone else I know in this southern capital city. Granted I am certain there are racists here. Just like up north, out west or any other direction. Look up de facto segregation

          2. New Jack Karyn*

            OP is saying that this *particular* person must have felt awful comfortable speaking like that to his peers. He didn’t all of a sudden pick that up when he crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

      4. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, this has also happened to me. I don’t know what it is about me, but somehow people see me and think- She looks sympathetic to my awful views. I rather wish they would stop.

        1. LapisLazuli*

          I think it’s something to do with the public-facing/service aspect of some jobs too. As in, “This person is paid to be here and cannot escape this conversation so I can say anything I like.” I experienced this kind of thing with my customer service/retail role. Sometimes, it was clearly to get a rise out of me (good luck making me part with my sole source of income). Other times, it seemed like the person saying the vile thing thought the girl at the grocery store was a great person to talk about their political and social views with. It turns out, they were wrong.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yeah, I’ve experienced this in public-facing jobs too – including a guy who told me that he didn’t think we should have His Kind (indicating my black coworker) working here. I didn’t manage to keep quiet about that one – I said something like “wow, did those words actually just come out of your mouth?” After Racist Customer left, I confessed the incident to my boss, afraid I’d get in trouble for being rude to him. Fortunately, my boss was awesome, and I didn’t! Also, she knew the guy, was well aware he was an asshole, and kept a list of the stuff he did which not too long afterward ended up getting him banned from the premises.

            1. LapisLazuli*

              Woof. I got a literal “I’m not racist, but…” I was so stunned to be having this conversation at 8 AM on a Thursday. She was definitely racist…

            2. Perpal*

              Asshole customers make both employees and other customers miserable and are not worth catering to

          2. Princesa Zelda*

            At my grocery store, customers walking past four or five Hispanic or black coworkers to me and going “good, one who speaks English!” is not uncommon. I generally respond something along the lines of “Everyone in this department speaks English.” and a flat stare. Unfortunately this has stopped exactly zero people.

        2. OP*

          I have found the line ” I hope you aren’t saying this to me because you think I agree with your awful ideology” to be very helpful. Most people dont push back on that one.

    2. Head Asplodey*

      And there it is. Is it bad that I am surprised it took this long for someone to doubt the authenticity of the OP?

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        I was just thinking what a great commentariat this site has, especially considering the subject matter, and mentally comparing it to Reddit, where there would be immediate skepticism that racism like this exists in America in 2019. Aaaaaaaand here it is. I still think AAM has a great group of commenters, though!

    3. Holly*

      Ah, yes, the classic “egging on the new employee to say the N-word.” And then the new person doing it when they don’t want to instead of going to HR themselves? How is this scenario more likely?

      1. fposte*

        What the hell kind of eggs could even *do* that? I don’t think most of us could be tricked or encouraged into racial slurs at work–is there a special technique?

    4. OP*

      If you think racism only comes out when the person feels “egged on” I strongly suggest you leave that rock you’ve been living under.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yeah, I had a home inspector in my house just a few weeks ago who didn’t say anything this bad but did make some comments about desegregation that I doubt he’d have felt comfortable saying to me if I wasn’t white-appearing. (I corrected his factual mistakes but didn’t feel comfortable outright saying it was racist because of the trapped-in-a-space with a much larger man thing, which isn’t ok and something I should work on*). And I’ve definitely had people freely drop the N-word and other racial slurs in my presence very quickly after meeting me, with absolutely nothing from me that would suggest it was welcome. It absolutely happens.

        *not that it’s not reasonable to make a judgment call about safety in confronting someone. But in retrospect, in this specific situation, I don’t think I had any grounds to be physically afraid, it was just my trained instinct to worry about confronting someone much bigger on a topic people get very defensive on. I should have been more clear with him.

        1. OP*

          That is the exact situation I was in. Much larger male v. me (female) trapped in a car all day with him. He dropped the first N word cautiously and I guess since I was too afraid to push back in the moment he used that as a reason to continue on.

          I even mentioned during my meeting with our President that I never said something because his comment came so out of left field that I thought he might be unhinged.

    5. Meh*

      People are stupid. I worked with a person who in their very first week starting slacking off as if he were going for the Slacking Off Gold Medal. Started lying to my face by day 4. Told me outright his last job let him steal both company time and expensive supplies because he (though he) was so valuable to them, so he continued his pattern with us. People’s true colors will out.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, I had a coworker who literally told me “I’m here to do the bare minimum possible to not get fired.”

        He was buddy-buddy with our boss… so when I ended up in a dispute with him over his laziness, his incompetence, and the sexist bullshit he said to me, *I* was the one who ended up fired. (The boss was a sexist jackass too, and the two of them talked politics constantly. Boss was a Republican and Lazybro was a Democrat, but they saw it all as good fun and bonded… and one of their points of agreement was yukking it up together about haw haw hysterical feminists.)

    6. President Porpoise*

      Some people are just self destructive. They don’t need any help making themselves repulsive.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*

        See you have met my relatives who are a few hairs about Mr. N Bomb.

        I’ve been out to eat with them, and they have no problems discussing (loudly) how illegal aliens should be gunned down at the border.

        And other assorted gross nonsense.

        If you live in a “nice community”, where people are open to everyone being their best boo, Mr. N Bomb seems like a total parody. My relatives live in a area where this kind of hate speech is a shoulder shrug.

        There are some areas have no problem with “Go Back”. Not all racists are working a minimum wage job and have a GED. My loudest loud mouth racist relative has a PhD.

    7. seejay*

      My partner meets dudes at the bar he’s a regular at that, within minutes, start trash-talking and slamming their girlfriends/wives and going on about the affairs they’re having, like they’re having bro-bonding moments with him and all he can do is sit there with a total disgusted look on his face while they prattle on. As soon as he can get a word in, he tells them off and walks away because he has no use for men who think so little of the women they’re supposed to love and be married to.

      So yeah, people will absolutely show their true colours and be absolute trash if they think their audience is of the same ilk. Welcome to “Many People Are Awful And Not Afraid To Show It 101”.

    8. LizB*

      I found it hard to believe that my fellow counselors at a summer camp would start casually dropping the N-word as soon as all the kids had left for the day, but lo and behold they did. And that was in 2013; I find it much easier to believe in 2019.

    9. 2019 isn't magic*

      Racism isn’t magically dead in 2019. It’s still rampant, including in overt forms.

      Even if it’s in response to being egged on, using extremely racist language and using it REPEATEDLY is a problem. And nothing in the letter and subsequent comments by the OP suggest they would be egging on racism.

    10. Observer*

      That’s why a poster complained how all of this protest is “chipping away at free speech”, right?

      Someone in 2019 tried shooting up a synagogue, killing one person. Numerous “someones” have called the police of black people for basically the crime of being black. The son of a Sheriff’s deputy tried to burn down three black churches.

      Or do you really think that this is all fake news made up by the media?

    11. Urdnot Bakara*

      You are severely underestimating the boldness of racists. I get it–it’s astounding to me sometimes, too. But I (white woman) have had both family members and complete strangers say racist things about my husband (not white) directly to me while he was in earshot, more than once, so….

    12. TyphoidMary*

      buddy, I promise you there is more racism in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy.

    13. The Ginger Ginger*

      In addition to everything else above, my dude, commenting rules here state we take the OPs at their word. So. Your comment is both unhelpful and out of bounds.

    14. lemon*

      Do you… watch the news or read a newspaper or talk to a non-white person ever??? It’s hard to believe that given the current political climate in the US that it’s 2019 and folks are *still* debating the existence of racism.

  41. OP*

    Thanks for all the input and clarification Alison and readers! I knew there was no way we would be in legal liability for protecting our other employees from this dangerous nuisance to society. I will be sending this letter to my friend in an attempt to educate her and her department.

    1. Rainy*

      Thank you so much for your efforts around this, both for your organization and for the people in your friend’s organization. Good work.

  42. Genny*

    In the rare cases where the law does protect political speech, does anyone know how they typically define that? I’m imaging it’s not quite as all encompassing as LW’s HR friend thinks it is (i.e. I’d be surprised if you could say whatever you want and then try to claim it as “political speech”).

    1. Holly*

      It depends on the context. If you’re talking discrimination in employment law – political affiliation is not a protected class. There is no claim for discrimination/hostile work environment based on political affiliation. Political speech/hate speech and first amendment issues are actually pretty complicated, but wouldn’t really be relevant here I don’t think.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      One form of speech that is specifically protected in the workplace is union related. Specifically, as I understand it, employers can’t ban union organizing specifically, though they could ban “all non-work related conversation.” However, I’m not sure how other forms of political speech would be categorized. Also, I’m not a lawyer, so I maybe misunderstanding the union speech rules.

    3. Don*

      It’s among the protected classes in D.C., unsurprisingly, and this was a topic of discussion when Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked to leave a Virginia eatery called the Red Hen. It got some additional column inches because there’s a Red Hen in D.C. (it’s soooo good) that’s unrelated to this one in VA and they got some undeserved heat about it, and told people that not only was that not them that did it but they couldn’t if they wanted to because of this rule.

      I’m not sure that’s true and they really would have realistically faced any consequences, but you can see political affiliation listed as item 12 here at the D.C. Government’s Office of Human Rights page: and there’s annual highlight reports of their activities. In 2018 they apparently fielded two political party complaints related to employment.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Could a hypothetical DC restaurant make the case that they’re not discriminating against the person for being a Republican, or even for working for the current administration, but because that particular person had done some pretty egregious things in the course of their job?

  43. Justin*

    My old workplace fired a guy for racism, too. No slurs, but he suddenly started saying how the black kids wouldn’t ever amount to anything so what was the point of helping them and then it was like, nope.

    They also made a client leave permanently for being racist to me, so, although that job had problems, I am glad they were on point about this stuff, and it goes to show that any job that thinks they CAN’T is either just willfully obtuse or doesn’t think it matters that much.

  44. ThatLibTech*

    “She seems to think we should have put him on a PIP and waited for his racism to rear its ugly head at work before acting.”

    I’m so baffled by your friend’s response, OP. He *did* show his racism at work. Repeatedly. Does he need to attack someone of colour first for it to “count”?

    You made the right decision and so did your employer.

    1. Moocowcat*

      And it was his first day of work! So he’d be on a probationary period anyway. Probationary period.

  45. Kyle*

    I know a major big law firm headquartered in the Midwest was sent a packet by an anti-hate speech group with evidence that one of their janitors/office manager/handyman type employees who had been there 20 years was very active on dark web message boards posting very racist and antisemitic views and he was terminated.

    Nobody who worked there had any idea he was this closet bigot.

  46. Jesse*

    This sounds like a case of an entry-level HR employee whose common sense is muddled by a limited, narrow scope of experience in their broad field – sort of like she can’t see the forest for the trees. She’s so wrapped up in terms like PIP, political opinions, etc. that she’s forgetting that it’s entirely legal to fire someone for a ton of reasons. There’s a reason your company hired the advice of a legal professional and not the entry-level HR person.

    1. OP*

      100% correct. A few people on this thread seem to imply she is a racist, but shes a POC. We were solely talking about the legal aspect of firing someone for racism. So I wasn’t shocked at her…ignorance of the laws and such, because she is entry level and legal jargon isn’t something you pick up over night. I was shocked at her mentor for backing up her false assertion though.

      1. Moocowcat*

        I am shocked at her ignorance of laws and such. Unless that was her very first day of HR work? If it was the hire’s first day then he’s well within the probationary period. The guy probably hasn’t even completed the intake package or gotten a company email set up. It’s even easier at that point to shove a bad hire out the door with a giant “Nope!”
        Well, entry level work can be a massive learning experience. May your friend take this knowledge and use it well.

  47. Meh*

    We were hiring for a position at my workplace not too long ago & my boss and I had differing opinions on who should be the top candidate out of those we interviewed. Luckily I did a quick social media search on the guy my boss liked – which showed openly aggressive white supremacy beliefs & hate-filled posts. I showed them to my boss, who was shocked, saying “but he seemed so professional.” Boss said he’d never thought to check a candidate’s social media (?!). Needless to say we didn’t hire that guy. So if you can choose not to hire them because they’re hate-filled racists, it should stand to reason you don’t have to keep them around on the job either (if you mistakenly hired them).

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Well, it’s a lot easier to never hire someone than to fire them. Once you let someone in the door, then your liabilities sky rocket and there’s a more in depth paper trail along with more laws attaching to the situation. This is why so many places have a long robust hiring process to really try to weed out problems prior to them being even more of a headache/liability in the end.

      When you choose between two people, it’s usually a conversation that happens and barring outright saying or documenting your discrimination, you can use a lot of discretion in the hiring process in the private sector.

  48. Cary*

    You don’t even need to make this about Privately held political opinions repugnant and messed up as they may be. The issue is his behaviour in the workplace, which was gross and calculated to make people of color live in fear. He gets to be a racist idiot if he wants, but he behaves professional Ly in the workplace and in public spaces or he doesn’t work for you.

    Also, not firing someone who dropped the n word six times on their first day does put your company in legal jeopardy.

  49. Sharrbe*

    What would this guy do if he had to work with someone who was non-white? THAT would lead the company open to serious lawsuits. Using the n-word six times to a stranger on his first day of work is a stunning display of arrogance and ignorance.

    1. OP*

      Exactly, and in our field, nearly every one he would supervise (from our company and others) would mostly be non-white. I was going to report his words regardless, but seeing the twitter feed made me feel like he could genuinely be violent.

  50. Zipzap*

    One of the administrators at my old firm, in reference to racist/sexist behavior, said something to the effect of, “You have the right to whatever opinion you want, but when it comes to the way you treat others at this workplace, you’d better check your attitude at the door. No disrespectful, racist or sexist behavior is tolerated here.” As abhorrent as the OP’s employee’s opinions are, it was his expression of them which got him fired. And frankly, his judgment in expressing them was unbelievably bad as well. There are likely many more racist/sexist people in the workplace than we want to believe, but they have enough sense to keep their mouths shut because they know others will be (rightfully) offended and will object, and they will end up in hot water.

    1. OP*

      It made me cringe when she said it but seeing the hilarious takes here have made me laugh a little too loud.

  51. almost empty nester*

    Apologies if this has already been noted elsewhere in the comments, but your company should SERIOUSLY review its’ hiring practices to include internet searches as part of the reference checking. They could have avoided this entire unfortunate episode had they done a reasonable amount of digging.

    1. OP*

      As mentioned above, his twitter handle wasn’t related to his name. The only reason I was able to pin it to him was because of my twitter app syncing with my contacts and recommending the ‘new contact’ I had in my phone.

  52. I AM a lawyer*

    Some courts have held that just one use of that particular word is enough to constitute hostile work environment harassment. The liability for keeping someone on staff who uses that word liberally is high.

  53. Gazebo Slayer*

    Your friend is either “not as well-versed in HR as she should be,” mistakes her own company’s messed-up HR policies for the law… or is sympathetic to this guy’s racist beliefs herself. Same goes for her boss in the HR department. Actually, I’m leaning toward door #3 here.

    1. OP*

      Its doors one and 2, as mentioned above, my friend is a person of color and all her arguments were rooted in legal liability not morality of racists.

  54. Larry’s wife Edna*

    As a non-US person and with no direct knowledge of if/whether/how people in African American communities and sub-cultures use the n-word amongst themselves, I’m curious to know what might have happened if the employee had been black (and perhaps said it only once, not the full-on six times). If this were someone talking about themselves, for example, would it be problematic enough for HR to be involved (I could imagine another person complaining if they overheard)?
    If this would never happen then please just ignore.

    1. I AM a lawyer*

      Legally, it doesn’t matter if the person who said it is of the same protected class to which it was directed.

    2. Alex*

      I think the point is that employers can fire people for things that they say, so…sure? They could? But generally it is not seen as “racist” when the N word is used in the way you are describing. Could someone potentially read it that way? Sure. Could a company have a zero tolerance policy about that word and fire someone on the spot for using it, regardless of context? Also sure. It seems that the LW’s case was a pretty clear cut instance of a racist person using that word in contexts where it was clear he was being racist, though, and could reasonably lead to firing even if the company concurrently tolerates it from someone else in a different context.

      1. Larry’s wife Edna*

        Absolutely agreed that this is a clear cut case and a reasonable and necessary outcome. I was just thinking through how one might need or want to navigate differently if the accused person could go on to try to argue that the word was being “reclaimed” (which I thought was the situation the OP was facing, at first, before reading the whole letter!). I suppose I was curious as to whether someone should report the usage if it’s done with the intent to self-identify but as with many things it seems like a “know your workplace” and “YMMV” situation.

        I see your point about both zero tolerance policies and nuanced policies being possible and workable. You and I AM a Lawyer have both given helpful responses, many thanks.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Legally, the company would be totally in the clear to fire them. They *might* also be required to if it ever came up in someone else’s claim–if the white guy fired for using it says “Well, you didn’t fire the black guy for using it, and that’s racial discrimination!”

          However, it might possibly happen that someone in OP’s shoes might be able to say, “Your use of that term on your own time is your business, but we don’t do that here at this company.” How the employee responds to that guides next steps.

    3. Working Mom Having It All*

      To be honest, the in-group sense you’re referring to would most likely not be workplace appropriate talk, even if it doesn’t quite rise to the level of hate speech in the same way that a white person doing it would. I’m not sure a single use, in a situation where everyone is aware that it’s being used in an in-group context, would be a “fire immediately” offense, but it would definitely indicate that the speaker isn’t aware of workplace norms. There would probably be a warning, and then if it kept happening the person might really be fired.

      A barrage of n-words, even in the in-group sense, however, could probably still rise to an immediately fireable offense depending on the specific context (in front of a client, in a public facing role, with minors present, etc).

    4. Morning reader*

      I’m a US person with very little direct knowledge of this either, and I think it’s because it doesn’t happen in most workplaces so I’ve never seen it. My takeaway from entertainment (ok, all based on watching “Insecure”) is that this would be very casual, social language, and not likely to be used in the workplace. Similar to how I used to call my best friend the c-word, irreverently and affectionately, in private settings, but I would never do so at work.

  55. PB*

    In my current field (television entertainment), there’s a long-standing piece of wisdom to -never- go to HR because it’s usually goliath companies vs contractors, and the saying goes that HR is employed to protect the company from you, not you from the company. This also bleeds into how the Weinstein stuff was allowed to keep happening – everyone wonders WHY, but it’s because in some fields, HR is not your friend, but instead exists to protect the company from any liability and maintain the status quo. HR lady who suggested a PIP sounds like she might be this type of dubious HR person.

    1. Meh*

      So true. Whenever someone hears of my work woes and says “you need to take that to HR!” I always remind them that HR is not there to protect me, the lowly lowest-level worker who could be replaced in a heartbeat, they are there to protect the company. Much-touted policies such as “No Tolerance for Retaliation” are in name only. Sad but that’s how it is.

    2. Working Mom Having It All*

      This particular case is a great example of a situation where, even if HR is not your friend, your interests and the company’s interests align. I also work in television and am very aware of the climate of not reporting things to HR. I also tend to agree that HR’s job is not to take care of humans, but to protect the company’s interests, and you should be extremely wary before you approach them. Even so, things like this are a clear-cut situation where having someone like this in the workplace is a terrible idea from any perspective.

      I tend to think people who come up with reasons not to report things, or reasons not to take action in cases like this, are mainly just not good people. On a moral and ethical level.

  56. STEMprof*

    Alison (or someone else knowledgeable), is this different in government jobs? Asking because there was a recent case in Baltimore that I meant to write in about, where a city employee had a public twitter account with really vile, racist, anti-semitic, anti-LGBT posts. After this was reported to the city, they claimed that the legal department said the man couldn’t be fired because the speech was protected by the 1st amendment, but they are opening an investigation into whether he used city resources to post to twitter. This seems off to me, but IANAL.

    1. fposte*

      Governments can and do get into trouble for restricting employee speech–if you work for the government, the first amendment *does* apply at work, and I know state universities, for instance, have really struggled with this. IANAL either, but my guess is that this is also not an at-will employment situation (civil service tends to be on contract).

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      If they had said those things at work, they could certainly be fired. You are right that government workers have slightly more protections that do other employees for what they say in their free time.

    3. Observer*

      It depends on his role. If he’s a janitor, say, and never interacts with the public, that might be the case. If, on the other hand, he’s a police officer? Yes, they can fire him. There have been several such cases recently.

  57. musical chairs*

    Whoo boy. People of color who don’t see their management take swift action of stuff like this learn immediately that it is tolerated. I’m so happy you work in a place that sees the importance of a message like that for its employees of all races. Hopefully your friend comes to understand that soon!

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, I bet some higher-ups at your friend’s company are scratching their heads and wondering “Whyyy can’t we retain employees of color?”

      (If they even give a crap.)

  58. Agile Phalanges*

    It would be a lot dicier to fire someone for “only” having racist BELIEFS. If he’d never said or done anything in the workplace the revealed his inner racism, and you’d had to go digging on his personal social media to find evidence of it, that would be a lot harder to justify. But saying the N-word in the workplace is ACTING on those beliefs, and it’s totally legit to fire someone for ACTING racist. They don’t have to start burning crosses and lynching people for it to cross that line, and I’d say being unable to keep the N-word in for eight hours straight IS crossing the line. Wow.

  59. Lavender Menace*

    The result of this gives me some hope for society at large.

    She seems to think we should have put him on a PIP and waited for his racism to rear its ugly head at work before acting.

    Please, please, no! I’m a woman of color. I don’t think it’s possible for me to explain the psychological trauma and impact of experiencing racism and hatred at the workplace, in a place where I want to be feel safe and be allowed to just do my job. I’ve felt out of commission for several days for much more subtle, covert acts than being called the n-word. The racism ALREADY reared its ugly head when he repeated the n-word six times on his first day. What other proof would someone need?

    If my team allowed someone who repeatedly used the n-word ON HIS FIRST DAY to remain in his role, I would leave as quickly as I could find another job (and honestly, depending on how long that took, I’d leave without having another job lined up because what).

    And OP, thank you so much for bringing your concerns up to HR and your manager and moving into action. That’s true allyship.

    1. Christmas*

      Totally agree, Lavender. I mentioned this above, but it seems like some people think that dropping the n-word “doesn’t count” if no people of color are around. I have ended friendships upon hearing that word just once (I’m white, and some people evidently assume they can use it around me). I don’t even speak to most of my mother’s side of the family due to their racist rhetoric. What kind of person just says, “Well let’s see if they *do* something racist.” They just did! As you said, “The racism already reared its ugly head”!!! What more is needed to learn about that person? Nothing.

  60. going anonymous today*

    Not this letter exactly but a lot of the comments here–reminds me of a girl that worked at my company. Freely used the n-a word, justified it b/c her boyfriend was black (she was not black).

    She was chatting with one of her friends and she was trashing another coworker and said something like “what’s wrong with that n”. Except she accidentally sent it to the person who it was about. That person was black. And he complained (rightfully so!) Unfortunately we didn’t have HR at that time, miss popular was untouched and a lot of people defended her saying she can’t be racist cz her boyfriend was black. The guy ended up quitting for lots of other reasons.

    She eventually quit a long time later, I never understood why she was that way, and we have HR now and this shit would never fly.

  61. Christmas*

    This letter reminds me of an Army buddy of mine.

    My buddy is lily-white, blonde haired, and blue-eyed. Wherever he is stationed (but worse when he was in Alabama), he has to deal with a very painful and awkward situation.

    Sometimes when he’s in a group of other soldiers, one of them will glance around the room (you already know where this going…) and if there are no people of color in the room, the soldiers will regularly launch into a rant or debate that is highly racist (sometimes under the guise of political discourse). Slurs and crude jokes or stereotypes come out. Then they all looking at my blonde/blue-eyed buddy, waiting for his hearty agreement and contribution.

    His wife (my best friend) is black.

    He doesn’t get into how he handles these situations when they come up; I think it depends each time. He implied that he, most often, gets a “I want to kill you all” look in his eye, then shuts down the conversation and walks away to avoid beating the ever-loving mess out of them. (Reporting this in the military seems fruitless, sadly.)

    I’ll never understand why some people think that racial slurs are a harmless/victimless crime just because there aren’t any people of color physically in the room.
    OP, your entry-level HR buddy seems like that type of person. Even if the guy said the n-word just once rather than 6 times, it’s unacceptable. It’s odd to me that your friend views this as “not racist” thereby implying that his actions can only be construed as racist if directly specifically and physically to a person of color.

    That would be like saying I’m not really a vegetarian unless I stand in front of a chicken leg and tell it that I that I don’t want to eat it.

      1. Christmas*

        I must’ve missed that! Or just didn’t comprehend/register it as being possible!! WHAAAAAAT?!??

  62. Malty*

    OP I’m sorry you had to deal with that guy for even that one day, but man this letter was a satisfying read. Dude was an awful racist, got immediately fired. My soul needed that

  63. PSB*

    Yes, extreme sarcasm. I’m also in a southern capital and reeeeeeeeeeally tired of this kind of nonsense.

  64. nnn*

    I’m surprised he found the opportunity six times in a work day! Even before we get into the question of racism and racial slurs, I don’t think I ever have the opportunity to mention specific/general/hypothetical people’s race or ethnicity six times in a day! Like, we have other things to do!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      People who use that word so casually really do find ways to interject it that frequently.

      Sort of like those people who can find reason to pepper every single sentence with swear words. Some people seriously speak this aggressively in passing. It’s like hard wiring.

      I’m probably also just really still shaken from seeing the hate-group gathering at the pride parade. It was surreal seeing it IRL but yeah, sadly some people really do operate on that level.

  65. MissDisplaced*

    You have to remember that while we all still enjoy Freedom of Speech, that mainly means we cannot be arrested or prosecuted for exercising that freedom and speaking our minds.

    But you can be fired.

  66. S*

    Dear OP, I hope you dropped your racism-apologist “friend” after this conversation. Ridiculous.

  67. cmcinnyc*

    Seriously, what is the deal with HR? I mean that generally. The idea of putting someone on a PIP their *first day!* Someone waltzes in on Day 1 and pulls this or any other magnificently wrong shit and HR thinks “PIP?” It’s like “Oh sorry we made a mistake hiring him but now he’s like our son and we can never be rid of him in fact we’ll have to promote him and leave him the farm.”

    I do realize OP’s HR responded really well but in my fairly extensive experience this is far, far, far from the norm. I’ve also seen more *firings* in HR than any other department! Is HR cursed?

    1. Anon-right*

      Because a degree in HR is so general it doesn’t prepare anyone to be an expert in any of the complexities of HR. If you are interested in HR pick compensation, MBA, leadership, adult learning, instructional design, corporate law… be an expert.

  68. Anon for this*

    Yet another reason HR should be a licensed profession (and a reason why I generally only hire HR people who are certified and even then I find myself un-training bad habits from other offices…)

    1. Anon-right*

      This is why I tell everyone who will listen that a degree in HR I useless. It gives you an overview but doesn’t make you an expert in any one area. And HR is complex.

  69. Oh heck no*

    This “racism PIP” sounds like something she thinks is fair, and all I can think is she wants that safety net when she or her friends”makes a mistake” at work. Such a red flag for not taking this seriously in any setting.

  70. Late to the game*

    Racism PIP makes me think of the Blackish episode where everyone freaks out when the Jewish woman on the team calls herself a Jew…

    I can only imagine how racism PIPs could be used AGAINST minorities. No discussions about diversity surveys, about workplace related race issues, about racist clients…it would totally be weaponized by white people so they felt more “comfortable.”

  71. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    He can be as racist as he wants to be, but he can’t expect to be a racist on someone else’s dime.

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