Paula caused quite a stir circa June 25 with regard to what she did or did not say, how she manages the workers in her kitchens, and just general protocol. She proclaimed innocence on all counts except for one instance when she used a racially questionable term. She wailed about the distress that her "young people" caused her when she would hear the names they would call one another. But she didn't talk about what she did to counter that behavior.
Good Georgia girl of the '60s, she claims that she only used the racially repugnant term one time in her life. Yet there are lawyers who have come up with quite a number of other instances. For someone of her vintage, she should have an appreciation of what the term connotes as well as other matters of which she is accused (her "pet" name for one of her chefs, the wedding dinner, oh dearie me). She's a grandparent. She's at a stage where she's been teaching etiquette and appropriate behavior to her offspring. The dynamic doesn't change when it pertains to employees, associates, and just people in general. Still, none of these situations caused her to stop and consider that she should put forth some measure that would stop these things from happening and curb the stain to her brand. Even worse, it appears none of her HR personnel approached her with suggestions or recommendations.
Establish a Zero Tolerance Policy
The concept of zero tolerance has been around for a while. It could be argued that Paula's kitchens could have put a zero tolerance section into the Personnel Handbook with regard to a lot of behaviors. The section could cover language, acts, attire, and other matters that cause one to bristle. But before jumping on that concept and saying that is the solution, the first thing that needs to be investigated is how effective zero tolerance is in any environment, whether it be at work, or at school, or anywhere else.
An initial cursory look at the string "effectiveness of zero tolerance policies" produced a lot of results that pertained to children in schools and bullying. One after another, the headnotes talked about how ineffective a zero tolerance policy is with regard to discouraging negative behavior.
But the investigation of the effectiveness of zero tolerance related to the workplace. So the string was modified to "effectiveness of workplace zero tolerance policy" which also proved to have no positive things to say about the policy. In fact, the findings still dodged the bullet by examining matters such as substance abuse, sexual harassment, and workplace bullying. It went the range of zero tolerance as it relates to a military environment to the university and all environs in-between. The reverse was discussed - how ineffective that policy is. Why is this so? According to Wikipedia, "Zero-tolerance policies forbid persons in positions of authority from exercising discretion or changing punishments to fit the circumstances subjectively; they are required to impose a pre-determined punishment regardless of individual culpability, extenuating circumstances, or history." In other words, there's little wiggle room.
Not All Negative
However, one writer, Samuel Greengard, pointed out several elements that contribute toward making an effective policy, one that discourages the types of behaviors that should be kept out while maintaining a healthy environment. Management buy-in is essential. Knowing the array of legal issues and laws is also important. And having appropriate forms of punishment help the zero tolerance policy work. Stepping outside of Greengard's citations of effectiveness policies, some authorities point out that the policy should be exacted on an equilateral basis. That is, it applies equally to all personnel, no matter what the position.
The Bottom Line Is
So this brings us to a takeaway on this matter. You have employees who are bandying insulting epithets at one another. You have managers (and even owners) doing and saying socially repugnant things that cause one to question the health of the environment. This doesn't require neurosurgeon skills. Simply do not tolerate or allow (even in jest) what could be construed as objectionable, harassing, or racist behavior. Even if the language is used among those of the same racial group and some of them (but not all) contend that it's the vernacular of the community or culture, do not tolerate it. (Unless, of course, you want to send the message to your customers that your business cannot rise to serving people with courtesy and allowing them to feel they have dignity.) Even if it's part of your culture and practice in your home, it isn't appropriate for those you serve and shouldn't be imposed on them. It isn't appropriate for those who are in your employ and they should not be subjected to it. This is the time to lead by example.
- Everything Paula Deen Did Wrong, and What She Can Do Right, Howard Bragman (June 23, 2013)
- Paula Deen didn't exactly deny those allegations of race discrimination, Eric Meyer (June 20, 2013)
- Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care & Social Service Workers, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (2004)
- Chapter 7: The Workplace Violence Prevention Program, AFSCME
- Zero Tolerance Making It Work, Samuel Greengard, Workforce Magazine (May 1, 1999; September 11, 2011)
- Zero Tolerance for Workplace Violence, Nonprofit Risk Management Center
- Zero Tolerance, Wikipedia