Ask Miriam | Swastika Tattoo on Coworker Causes Discomfort

Doctor or nurse putting on blue nitrile surgical gloves, professional medical safety and hygiene for surgery and medical exam on white background.
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Dear Miriam,

I am training a new contract employee at work and when he changed gloves, I noticed he had a small swastika tattoo on his hand. I checked a second time, but it was definitely there. He’s very young and just graduated. Nothing else raised any alarms for me in the full day we’ve spent one-on-one so far, but I’m unsure what to do about the situation. 


Uncomfortable Essential Employee


Dear Uncomfortable,

This is definitely an uncomfortable situation, and however things move forward and, hopefully, resolve, I want to acknowledge the difficult circumstances you find yourself in. Given that you’re still going to work at this time, I imagine there are a lot of other strains and difficulties involved in your day-to-day.

I hope that you don’t push yourself to ignore or minimize your discomfort just because other surrounding circumstances might be more immediately related to the global crisis. You’re allowed to be really upset. 

The first thing you should do is go to your human resources department. Because the person in question is a contract employee, I’m not sure if he will fall under your company’s HR policies. However, you do, and if circumstances are making you uncomfortable, as they are, then you are within your rights to file a complaint, or at least make an inquiry about the process. 

At the same time, I would recommend calling your local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League. They may have some legal as well as practical advice for how and whether to work with this person, as well what standard workplace procedures are for offensive tattoos. As I am neither a legal expert nor an HR professional, I can’t speculate about what the outcome could be from any of these conversations, but I know you shouldn’t try to figure out what to do on your own.

Any conversation with any expert will probably take at least a few days to resolve and, in the meantime, you still have to go to work. Think about and ask if there’s no way to get out of having to train him directly. If there isn’t, or if even that change itself would take a few days, treat him professionally, avoid personal conversations and keep tuned into whether he says or does anything else that raises concerns. Take notes on anything that may be useful in future conversations with HR.

Finally, have a plan to take care of yourself during the day. Set a reminder on your phone to take some deep breaths. Connect with a positive sensory experience like chewing a piece of gum or rubbing a smooth rock in pocket while working with him (neither of which, I realize, may be possible in your line of work and/or while wearing gloves). Text a friend for some emotional support during your lunch break, and have a plan for something to look forward to when you get home at the end of the day.

On top of everything else going on right now, I’m sorry you have to deal with this, too.

Be well,



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