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Employers and Supervisors Cannot Look the Other Way

Balmeet Singh was allegedly accosted because of his race or religion outside of a Bakersfield restaurant on September 30 and dozens of people reportedly witnessed it and did nothing about it. In her article “Why Don’t We Help? Less is More, at Least When It Comes to Bystanders,” Melissa Burkley Ph.D. said people have a tendency to look the other way when they are witnesses to wrongdoing for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1: Pluralistic Ignorance. Burkley says that a major reason people don’t respond to a crime being committed is because they don’t realize that a crime is being committed. When we’re in a situation and not sure what’s happening, we look to see how others are responding. If the people around us don’t react, we tend not to react either.

Reason 2: Diffusion of Responsibility. According to Burkley, “the more bystanders there are, the less responsible each individual feels.” If 10 people witness a wrongdoing, each feels only slightly responsible to help and frequently waits for someone more qualified to take charge. If one person witnesses a wrongdoing, he or she is totally responsible to help and will more likely do so.

A third reason people don’t help others that I can provide is because of retaliation. For example, in his article “County settles harassment case for $1.2 million,” The Bakersfield Californian staff writer James Burger reported that two Kern County Probation Department employees filed suits against the County claiming they were forced out of their jobs for trying to help a coworker who claimed she had been sexually harassed. Situations like this are so common in the employment world that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission extended retaliation protection to individuals who merely assist or verify another’s complaint.

Those all might be very good reasons people don’t get involved; however, incidents like the one concerning Singh are on the rise and employers must not ignore them if they happen at work. According to various news sources, hundreds of incidents of harassment or intimidation have been reported following the presidential election. Most of the incidents were directed at people or about people because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, all of which are protected classes in California. Most of the incidents occurred in educational institutions; however, it’s probably just a matter of time before they begin occurring in businesses.

All employers are required by law to provide a workplace that is harassment free. Therefore, I suggest they remind their supervisors to quickly take action if they witness or hear of any inappropriate behavior among their employees. And, encourage employees to speak up if they witness or experience inappropriate behavior as well.

The Bakersfield Californian writer Steven Mayer said that dozens of witnesses “looked away when he tried to meet their eyes” in his article about the incident involving Balmeet Singh. Perhaps those witnesses didn’t react because they were confused, uncertain, or afraid. Employers and supervisors cannot look away from inappropriate behavior that involves their employees and must react, regardless of how they feel about it.

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Disclaimer: The information and resources provided herein are not a substitute for experienced legal counsel and does not constitute legal advice or attempt to address the numerous factual issues that inevitably arise in any employment-related dispute. Although this information attempts to cover some major recent developments, it is not all-inclusive, and any recommendations are based upon HR best practices and procedures. We recommend you consult an attorney for legal guidance.

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