Don’t “let it slide”

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Q: I am a new supervisor in a new company.  I am learning the culture and how decisions are made.  It is a start-up and growing rapidly.  It is a fun place to work and I feel like I have a great team.  My former company was a bit larger.  We had more processes in place but it was not growing.  My question for you is as follows: there are comments, made by some of my peers and some of my team members.  My former company would not consider these acceptable.  Some of the comments are about new hires.  Some comments are about co-workers.  Some are about others within our building.  Some of the comments are really distasteful and about an associate’s appearance.  Other comments are about an applicant and their age.  One manager said “we need them young and lively.”  He was joking but now everyone is using the phase, “are they young and lively?”  Do I let these comments slide?  As the “new guy” I don’t want to rock the boat but I also know these could get us into trouble.

A: Wow.  Thanks for sharing.  You are in a tough situation.  You are a new supervisor and learning a new culture and beginning to earn credibility within your new organization.

I would recommend that you raise your concerns with your supervisor.  Ask your supervisor if he or she has noticed anything about some of these comments.  How your supervisor responds to your questions is important.  He or she might downplay the comments or the response may be aligned to your reaction, which sounds like you are concerned.  As a supervisor, you have a responsibility to ensure you are providing a safe and professional workplace.  Being a “start-up” is not an excuse either.

Over the past year or so, the “line,” for what is acceptable and what is not, has moved.  Employees (and candidates) have a stronger voice than in the past.  There are online forums, like Glassdoor, where candidates and employees can share their praise as well as their concerns.  It seems like the media also likes to profile some of their stories, which sometimes does not reflect well on the company.  Additionally, a candidate or an employee could pursue legal action.  Age is a protected class.  This means that comments about a candidate’s (or employee’s) age may very well put the employer at risk.  Even emails can “discoverable” if a candidate or employee pursues a claim.  Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick learned this information the hard way.

You have good instincts.  I would try to model appropriate behavior and refrain from comments like the ones you have mentioned.  I would ask your team to be careful about comments and/or feedback that could put your employer in jeopardy.

I would not “let it slide.”  Not in 2018.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.