America – the world’s melting pot! However, even though the United States represents the most diverse population in the world, those populations have not always blended so well together. While many Americans will hoist a pint of green beer this month and engage in the “Wearing O’ the Green,” -whether by birthright or adoption – our Irish-American ancestors, among others, were not always so well celebrated.
Despite the fact that compared to most countries in the world America is clearly still the land of opportunity for all, lingering biases do still exist. Regardless of any individual’s personal opinions or beliefs, the workplace is no place for the expression of such biases.
While discrimination laws are not intended to eliminate all camaraderie and fun from the workplace, as a general rule, if the “butt” of a joke or comment relies upon individual’s national origin (or any other protected classification) it’s probably not appropriate in the workplace. While an isolated comment here or there does not amount to unlawful discrimination, a regular pattern or practice of comments directed at an individual based upon their national origin does.
When employees feel ridiculed or demeaned based upon personal characteristics such as their national origin there will usually be a poor workplace environment. This, in turn, leads to poor morale, disciplinary and attendance problems, and high turnover – all costly for an employer. For employers to have the “luck of the Irish” and promote workplace harmony, it is important to ensure publication of your nondiscrimination and harassment policies and the provision of regular employee education and training on the subject. Doing so not only promotes a positive work environment, it also provides a potential defense for employers in those instances where an employee, despite the employer’s best efforts and education, chooses to engage in inappropriate shenanigans.
Kacey is Of Counsel with Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney, PLLC and focuses her practice on employment law, education law and governmental liability defense. Kacey previously served as general counsel for a major state university and is well-versed on the areas of the law that affect schools, colleges and universities, such as teacher performance, hiring and dismissal, student discipline, the Civil Rights Act, Title IX compliance and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Kacey also defends employers in all aspects of employment related litigation, handling claims of sexual harassment, race, age and gender discrimination and violations of wage and hour laws and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). She also represents a variety of public entities, and is knowledgeable about issues unique to the public sector including whistleblower claims, conflicts of interest, constitutional issues (state and federal), open records and open meetings laws, and immunity for government agencies and officials.