The fact that the "N" word is inappropriate and offensive should not be news to anyone.
I had a client call me with an allegation that one of his employees was in the break area and overheard use of the "N" word. This workplace is a very diverse, blue collar manufacturing setting. I was called to conduct an examination of the allegation and to make a recommendation for the employer's next steps.
An allegation is neither a fact nor a fiction. Until it is examined or investigated, it is simply a statement made by an employee. Like in baseball, the pitcher pitches the ball and the catcher catches it. The batter asks the question of the umpire, "Was it a strike or a ball?" The allegation from the investigation becomes truth if it is substantiated or denounced if it cannot be substantiated.
It is imperative that the allegation be investigated. If an employee alleges something has gone wrong or something is of concern and management says, "It's nothing; go back to work." Management is saying to the employee, "Your opinion or concern doesn't matter, therefore you don't matter." That's simply not smart and, today, it won't stand.
I was called in to examine the allegation. I started with the employee who raised the concern to management-the one that made the allegation. I got his account of what happened. He gave me the details of who said what and who overheard it beside himself. He also told me how he felt about the matter. The last part is very important. How he feels will drive his behavior going forward. I interviewed the alleged perpetrator and all the alleged witnesses. The long and the short of the investigation was that the allegation was substantiated—it was a fact that the employee used the "N" word and that others, both black and white, were offended.