I've been in workplaces where it wasn't uncommon for others to express derogatory remarks about large groups of people, for example an ethnic group. Sometimes this includes groups I identify with, overtly or discreetly, but regardless it makes me uncomfortable. How should I respond?

Should I address it? Tell someone else? Who? Let it be?

In the case I'm thinking of here, the company ranged from 4-7 employees and did not have an in-house HR person. In various instances of this I tried responding or letting it be, but ultimately it continued so I left. It takes skill and bravery I believe to respond in a constructive way, particularly when it's about a group that is not visually identifiable and that others don't know you identify with. I'd love thoughts on how to do that.

2 Answers 2


This is intended as a supplement to mhoran_psprep's answer.

For small companies, you can go to local/state department of labor. They're able to provide you with the assistance.

The most important thing is to seek help and advice asap. Don't "Let it be". Everybody has this civic duty - you're a citizen.

Before you report it to the right channel, document it. Record the time, place, the event and the inappropriate remarks.

Added after OP edited the question in case others may run into similar situations:

In response to what OP says "it's about a group that is not visually identifiable". It would be a tough call whether to report it or not. I think the action depends on the nature of those remarks and the extent of them. I am going to make up the following scenario: suppose you like to wear red color dresses and your co-workers say you look prettier in green. It's hard to report this to HR or other channels. In this case, you need to ask yourself a question, would the situation impact your job performance? If not much, you can ignore those remarks and move on. That's not to say you accept those remarks. Rather, you should concentrate on your job. However, if your job performance is seriously impacted by those remarks, you need to do something about it. Your job is the most important thing when you're in your work place. The most important thing in your work place is the preformance of the work team. Somebody needs to make sure the whole team is doing great to generate profit for the company. Otherwise, why pay the employees to be there? For them to make remarks?


I am basing the answer on the fact that you specify in your bio as being in New York City.

Many companies have a annual training program to address these issues. Federal contracts require that a company provide mandatory training. As a part of the training they must tell you how to report these incidents. US law also protects you from retaliation if you make a good faith report. Local and state governments may also have laws that apply in these situations.

Your company should be concerned because these types of comments can make a hostile work environment. Offended groups may also see it impacting hiring and promotions. This can lead to lawsuits.

Depending on the individuals involved, you may or may not, feel comfortable going to your boss. You probably don't want to go to the other employees boss, if you don't know the work dynamic.

If your company has this training find out if there is an HR or EEO office, or somebody else that you should report these incidents to. If they don't have have a designated person, then you may have to go outside the office to make a report.

Based on your question it appears this is not a one time event, so you have already "let it be", it is now time to talk to somebody else.

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    mhoran_psprep is right. You should report it to the right channel asap. Try to think this way - somebody else may report it. The one who made the inappropriate remarks probably would think it was you who reported him/her. What would you do then?
    – Nobody
    Jun 3, 2012 at 12:35
  • @mhoran_psprep These are very helpful comments, and definitely make sense when at a large employer. In the case I'm thinking of here the company was 4-7 people throughout my time there, all were in the room to hear those remarks, and management sometimes joined in. Should I edit the question or ask an additional one that is specific to small companies/Startups? Jun 3, 2012 at 16:36
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    @Holly I would edit the question and specifically note what you changed. Also, when you do that, please do specify if the small company does or does not have a dedicated in-house HR person.
    – jcmeloni
    Jun 4, 2012 at 0:37
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    @Holly: you should also start looking for another job. I don't think these idiots will be in business long. Jun 4, 2012 at 4:46
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    @kevincline luckily, I've already found another one with a more professional environment. But figured it would be good to get feedback on how to deal with this should it happen again! Jun 5, 2012 at 2:31

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