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Workplace Diversity: Delaware DoT Says What Not to Say; 5 Tips for Doing It Right

By Caleb Groos | Last updated on

The Delaware Department of Transportation recently sent a newsletter to its employees illustrating ways one should avoid communicatiing with coworkers. The detailed illustrations of what not to say did not go over well with many department employees. To contrast the example set by the Delaware DoT's newsletter, here are some things small businesses can do to make workplaces more inclusive.

As reported by Delaware Online, Delaware DoT's "Diversity Spotlight" newsletter was intended to promote diversity awareness. Ironically, it asks, "How can you go about interacting with your colleagues without putting your foot in your mouth?" Contrary to state's intentions, the Diversity Spotlight appears to have cast a light on just about every way one can cause offense in the workplace.

Unfortunately, the newsletter's language prevents this blog from linking to it. Let's just say it systematically goes through most minority types and identifies three or four incredibly offensive things you should not say to such people. About "the N word," the newsletter says that although we've heard African American comics says it, it's never acceptable to say. "You are asking for trouble; leave this one alone," it concludes. Good advice indeed. Also for those drafting workplace diversity newsletters.

Some say Delaware DoT bungled a very important topic. Some say the Diversity Spotlight itself was sexist, racist, homophobic and ageist. Not Delaware DoT spokesman Darrel Cole, however. His response? "Is it in your face? Absolutely. Is it pretty bold? Yeah, it is. But the general thought is that you have to shock people to get their attention. The overwhelming response was 'Wow, this is saying what we've been feeling.'"

In saying what not to say, the Delaware DoT showed us what not to do. On the other hand, here are a several things small businesses can do to limit discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

  1. Create anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. In them, make clear that they apply to everyone at all levels of the organization, and that no one will be punished for making a complaint about discrimination or harassment. Once you have the policies, make it a point to follow everything in them.
  2. Take any complaints of discrimination and harassment seriously, no matter how trivial or unbelievable they may seem at first glance. Employers have a duty to promptly investigate all complaints of discrimination and harassment.
  3. Maintain levels of confidentiality and respond to claims in a discreet manner. The alleged victim deserves to be spared further embarrassment, and the accused parties (particularly if they dispute the complaint) deserve some privacy as well. Limit the dissemination of information about the complaint to people who need to knows.
  4. If it is determined that harassment occurred, make the punishment target the wrongdoer, not the victim. Reassigning the victim (even if pay and benefits would be the same or higher) can cause problems.
  5. Never discourage or threaten employees for seeking the assistance of a federal or state agency or commission. They have a legal right to seek the assistance of governmental agencies. Impeding them from doing so, or punishing them afterward, could cause an employer serious legal consequences.
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