Your curiosity may be piqued by coming into regular contact with someone from another culture. If your relationship with that person is in a context such as a gym, place of worship, or child’s school, conversation may flow easily. Work might be a different situation. Of course coworkers often form good working and sometimes personal relationships. Many times an interest in your friend’s culture of origin is welcome. But extra care should be taken in the workplace if you are a supervisor or owner of a business. This difference in hierarchy can create an extra challenge.
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Why? You’ve probably read words similar to these from the website of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC):
Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.EEOC.gov
While research has shown that managers being interested in their staff’s life outside of work is good for morale, there are still potential minefields. For example, you may be genuinely curious about someone’s ethnicity or cultural background, but use caution. It may be best to allow the employee to open a door of discussion. It is critical to consider conflicts or questions that might just come up later. Your department or business is made up of people, right? There are often issues to be solved between people. To the best of your ability, make sure there is no question about your preferences for or prejudices against individuals. Remember the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Leaders need to always think ahead about possibilities, precedents and potential issues.