The racial slurs from the man randomly targeting Stephanie Kim were nasty, but she said the onlookers’ silence — including from the bank staff at TD — hurt even more.
It shouldn’t be that way, according to Tracy Porteous, executive director of Ending Violence BC, which runs the anti-harassment workplace-training program Be More Than a Bystander. It focuses on sexual abuse and harassment, but the same rules apply, Porteous said.
Porteous said TD, and other corporations, should “show leadership” and invest in training employees to be active, not passive, bystanders.
“We are not born confident. We don’t know what to do. We freeze. We don’t want to become the target,” she said. “At workplaces you have a captive audience. You can decide: I’m going to contribute to social change by providing my employees with life skills.”
No one came to Kim’s defence at the bank last week. Not even the staff member she approached, who, she says, told her there was nothing to be done because the harasser was also a client.
Employment lawyer Howard Levitt said “the excuse is absolute nonsense,” adding “The bank had a positive obligation to attempt to stop the person … as a last resort, even calling the police to remove them for trespass if necessary.”
Nicole Simes, who also works in employment and human rights law, said if a business’s staff is informed of an incident and does nothing, it could be in a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Canadian Human Rights Act.
In response to questions about what the bank has done to further address the issue and prevent future incidents, a TD spokesperson emailed Metro this statement:
“We are sorry that this happened. We have been in touch with the affected customer to apologize for her experience. And since this unfortunate incident, we have taken action to ensure it does not happen again. We have training in place to make sure we offer a safe and respectful environment. We have reinforced with our branch employees how to best handle these types of situations and make the best judgment call in the moment.”
Kim said she has received two follow-up calls from TD, including one from a Vice-President who said the human resources department would be taking action, but didn’t offer specifics. The VP also assured her the alleged harasser is no longer banking with the company.
TD declined to confirm this, citing privacy.
Though it was upsetting, Kim said she’s happy her experience created a conversation about public racism.
“It’s not like I’ve never been called ‘chink’ before,” she said. “I really just want the bank to know, and bystanders to know, that silence is not the answer.”