How many racist slurs need be endured to create a hostile workplace?   That is the current on-going conversation on this blog.

But besides those readers who quantify the answer, or those who offer explanations and condemnations, one interesting idea has been posited:  fines, penalties and even taxes.

Justin Carver, a program analyst at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Evansville, Indiana area, proposed a “racist tax”:

21284664_s“Great article! I have to agree with Derrick Bell. I believe there should be a racist tax. At least that way we would know who the racists are in the employment sector.

Unfortunately, all these cases will encourage is covert racism. I am not sure if there is a good way to determine racism based upon specific use of terminology. Therefore, I believe the only true way to measure racism is to evaluate the actions of the employer. For example, the under payment of the manager in the case in the article is a clear indication of racist behavior. Though terminology can be hurtful, the reality is the actions are by far more detrimental than any semantics will ever be.”

Donohue Elliott, labor relations consultant in Bristol, Conn.;

“The law needs to change whereas they’ll be substantial fines for this type of behavior, that can be proven. I’m talking about the first incident $500,000. If such behavior is repeated, damages could go as high as $10 million dollars. It seems that’s the only thing these people and companies understand when they get hit financially.”

James Davis, Sr., organizing consultant, Painter, VA;

“I agree fully with Mr. E. Americans value money above everything else. Since legislation is out, fines and penalties must be in. Huge penalties will change American culture overnight.”

Ian Bush, executive in the Ottawa, Canada area:

“Penalties, of whatever size, will not change the underlying behaviour, it will drive the behaviour underground and shift it to different means of expression. It’s only money and that is compensated for by many “creative accounting” techniques and through insurance.

If one wants to dogmatically eradicate behaviours from one’s society through penalties, then the most effective way would be to seize the perpetrator’s assets and terminate his employability in your country.

For the organisation, use the three strike rule. That is, if three verified incidents, seize its assets and terminate its rights to operate in your country as is or through subsidiaries, joint ventures or by any company in which it has investments. Inclusive of the latter would be to ostracize the CEO, Chairman of the Board and President from the country. This will result in a tangible shift toward whatever you are trying to achieve.”

However, injecting a dose of skeptcism into the conversation, Carlos Cortes, diversity lecturer/consultant in the LA area, wondered “Who decides if a specific word is a ‘racial slur?’   That is a real dilemma.”

He continues:   “There are plenty of racial slurs that all ‘reasonable people’ (whoever they are) would agree on.  That’s the easy part. However, in my years of diversity work I’ve run across lots of words that some people view as slurs and others do not. In fact, that has sometimes become a heated topic in my workshops.

My concern within any organization is who becomes the final arbiter of determining whether or not a racial term is indeed a slur. Once you get beyond the obvious ones, it’s not quite so simple. Before I would support a “zero tolerance” policy on racial slurs, I would like to know who makes those categorical decisions and what standards they use to make that decision.

I have never encountered a good system for making such decisions. If somebody knows of one, please discuss it. That would be very enlightening, at least to me.”

Typically, the debate about employment discrimination in the workplace has no clear or bright-line answer – neither the courts nor relevant professionals always agree.