My boss makes inappropriate, often racist remarks. What can I do?
From a legal point of view, it has to be distinguished whether these remarks are made to customers, colleagues, or to you. In the first case, we are more on the subject of civil courage and it will be a question of not simply looking the other way when it comes to bullying or pushiness. However, if these remarks also apply to you and are in particular aimed at you, they have fallen within the scope of an employment relationship. Labor law sets very clear limits here and is supported by the offence of insulting or defaming the penal code. It is always advisable to get allies on your side beforehand; this could be a shop steward of the company, the works council, the equal opportunities officer, or even a colleague. In case of doubt, even a lawyer who sets clear limits in writing in the event of repeated verbal assaults.
This is one side of the coin. At best, these measures will only change the behavior, but not the attitude and character of the boss. It’s ultimately the company culture that decides whether or not this boss fits into this company culture with his/her beliefs. If not, the company should part with him/her if you do not want to support his/her influence. If so, however, it is only up to you to make the decision to stay in this corporate culture and, in case of doubt, to become ill – because something like this makes you sick in the long run – or to look for another job with a much more suitable corporate culture.
Not an easy decision. Especially since these remarks usually only minimally cross the border to “good taste” and are therefore all the more dangerous because they will eventually become part of everyday culture. And also other colleagues usually remain in a tacit, wait-and-see attitude (the classic bullying scenario).
Therefore a last tip: ask your mirror image in the morning whether you can easily tell your mother or son about the statements of your boss in your presence. If not, this is no longer the place for you and should not be a part of your life.
Geertje Tutschka is the founder and CEO of CLP (Consulting for Legal Professionals), which supports lawyers in their careers around the world with here 25 years of expertise as a corporate lawyer and attorney in Germany, Austria, and the US. Her most relevant topic is leadership. The mother of three daughters is the author of numerous specialist books. Since 2016, she has led the German chapter of the International Coach Federation, the world’s largest association of professional coaches.