Sexual orientation complaint


We have an employee in our warehouse who has been with us for about a month who has come to me to complain of verbal abuse from a few co-workers. He is openly homosexual and they are apparently referring to him using nicknames that are derogatory. 

I should note that the environment in our warehouse is one in which everyone seems to get along, and although there is a fair amount of joking (some of it involving use of foul language and name-calling ), to my knowledge it's alwasys been good-natured.  That having been said, it's apparent that this employee is offended by the language and I want to address it. So I approached the supervisor who oversees the warehouse, who was surprised to  hear about it, and claimed that the employee who complained was a willing participant in back-and-forth jokes and name-calling with his co-workers.  He felt it would be unfair to single anyone out (by speaking to them individually), but agreed to tell all the workers in the warehouse that he'd "received complaints" about their language and to "watch their language" from now on.

That was a few days ago and I haven't heard anything else. My question is, what else can I do? I wouldn't tolerate comments based on protected status ( sex, race, etc)  but employees aren't protected on the basis of sexual orientation in my state (I checked). And while we would never allow swearing in front of customers, etc., we don't have any rule prohibiting swearing, teasing, etc. among co-workers.


  • 7 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • your state may allow it but you don't have to allow it.  the complaint should be a red flag about possible bullying at your company. and if employees are making comments about someone's sexual orientation, it's also possible they are making fun of other characteristics that are protected under federal/state law.  training with examples of appropriate and inappropriate behavior would show employees what is acceptable. it also sounds like HR needs to keep a closer eye on the situation.  what looks like good natured back and forth to one person might be viewed as bullying by HR.
  • exactly. no one should feel intimidated or harrassed at work. maybe it would be a good idea to follow up with the employee to see if things have gotten better??
  • I agree with the others that this type of "fun" is inappropriate no matter how casual, or rough and tumble the environment. It might be a good time to distribute the company policy on diversity and harassment, and provide a little training to all employees. Then, if things continue, employees are on notice they may be disciplined for using this type of language or bullying another employee.

    It may not be illegal to discriminate or harass someone on the basis of sexual orientation in your state, but allowing it to happen isn't good for employee morale, or employee retention. This behavior doesn't contribute to the bottom line and may very well hurt it.

  • Blakefan is right--follow up is the essential element in human resources 
  • I must commend you for recognizing that you have a problem. The complaint is not so much in response to a single reported episode, but it comments on the overall culture of the warehouse. From what you have presented, I suggest that you follow HR relations 101 and document, investigate, and correct. "Foul language" and "name calling" should not be allowed in the workplace it sets a precedent for escalation of inappropriate behavior.  




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  • I want to second wgat Urs says--you at least care enough about the situation to ask for help.  And, its clear that you realize something more really ought to be done. Following up with the employee who complained will reinforce that you took it as seriously as you've conveyed in your message here. Does he even know that you relayed his complaint to the supervisor?

    If he reports that the situation hasn't improved (and maybe even if he doesn't), I agree with other respondents that you need to do something to eradicate the culture that has been allowed to thrive in the warehouse.  It sounds like the warehouse supervisor could use some training as to what's appropriate language/behavior in the workplace. I hope you would have the support of upper management there if the supervisor isn't cooperative in your efforts to "clean up" the warehouse.


  • Thanks everyone for your replies.  First, I'm sorry for not being clear in terms of following up with the employee.  I had determined that I would go back to him in about a week to find out if the situation had improved. I met with him at the end of the workday yesterday, and he told me that the supervisor actually mentioned "name calling" to the group when asking them to refrain from using foul language towards each other.  The employee says that. so far, it hasn't happened again. So that was a relief.  Still, I will check back with him and monitor the situation--and I also urged him to come back to see me if it became a problem agaion.

    I appreciate all your points about how, regardless of the reason for the name-calling/insults, I needed to take the lead to put an end to them. I really was throwing it out to all of you because it wasn't based on a protected characteristic, but more to the point, you all made it clear that you think that's irrelevant. The issue is about having and enforcing a code of civility in the workplace--and HR must take the lead to ensure everyone is getting treated with dignity.

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