I just returned from a vacation to France. Upon my return and hearing where I traveled to, a lot of people wanted to know how the trip was. They also wanted to know something else — were the French rude? With the exception of one person who worked at the airline ticket counter who was rude, which I attributed to the fact that she was an airline employee and not that she was French, everyone could not have been nicer to me while I was in France. This is true despite the fact that my knowledge of French consists of being able to say hello, goodbye, please, thank you and where is the bathroom. Nonetheless, I found the French people to be willing to help and ignore the fact that I was butchering their language.
It seems that it is a rather common stereotype in the United States that the French, particularly the Parisians, are rude. My experience was so different that it got me thinking about stereotypes and how pervasive those beliefs can become. It also got me thinking about how employers must be prepared to combat these stereotypes on a daily basis. In my experience, most employers who have harassment policies do a good job of setting out what is prohibited sexual harassment, but they may forget to focus their policies and training on other types of harassment and discrimination that may occur based upon other protected classes like national origin.
Good harassment and discrimination policies should make clear that discrimination based upon membership in any protected class as defined by federal, state or local law, will not be tolerated. Training should also cover more than sexual harassment and refer to discrimination based upon national origin, marital status, race, religion, etc. This is not only a good idea from an employee relations standpoint but can have important benefits in a litigation.
I have had plaintiffs try to parse language of discrimination policies that focused almost exclusively on sexual harassment to say that they were unaware that discrimination based on another protected class was prohibited. They have also parsed policy language to say that they thought the complaint procedure only applied to sexual harassment claims.
So, today I have two suggestions for you: 1) review your harassment and discrimination policies to insure that they cover the protected classes in the jurisdictions in which you operate, and 2) plan a trip to France — the food is amazing, the culture and history interesting, and the people are nice — no really, they are nice.