However, rather than recommending what to say or how to say it, the tips consist entirely of things not to say.
What do you think of the Department of Transportation's advice? Do you get official advice like this on your job? And do you ever get questions like this from your coworkers?
The entire two pages can be found here (PDF).
Comments you never want to make to a coworker
WORKPLACE FAUX PAS
WORKPLACE FAUX PAS
Curiosity is natural; and with a diverse workforce, inquiring minds always want to know. How you communicate your inquiries can keep you from offending your co-workers.
How can you go about interacting with your colleagues without putting your foot in your mouth? How do you keep from getting the cold shoulder and creating friction in the workplace? . . .
It is always better to be honest and acknowledge your unfamiliarity when you are curious about a person or a topic. It is never inappropriate to build a better working relationship with your co-worker by getting to know them. You can never go wrong by saying “I really don't know that much about...” or “I’m curious about this, would you be offended if I asked you….?” People will have greater respect for you when you are sincere and admit you are genuinely interested in learning about them.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Co-workers
Employees who make the decision to “come out” are usually apprehensive about the kinds of reaction they will receive from colleagues.
• What did your family say?
This is personal and not an opportunity to start gossip.
• I don’t consider you gay.
This is insensitive.
• Have you thought about getting help?
You are stereotyping, telling the person there’s something wrong that should be fixed.
• Never call a coworker a “fag” or “homo.”
This is derogatory, rude, and totally insensitive.
• I didn’t need to hear that.
If you are not interested in the person’s personal life, simply say “Thank you.”
African American Coworkers
• The “N” word
You may have heard comedians or African Americans use the word “nigger” casually. It is never, ever acceptable to use this word in any context. You are asking for trouble; leave this one alone.
• You people
Let’s just say you are asking for trouble when you make this reference. Your focus should be on the individual, not the race or culture.
• Should we order fried chicken or watermelon for you?
This is stereotyping and shows ignorance.
• You are articulate, or you speak very well.
As opposed to what? You may be implying that most African Americans are not well spoken or well educated. Remember a vice presidential candidate made this mistake.
• I am not prejudiced against black people, my neighbors are black.
You are saying it’s all right to treat people differently because you know a few people of the same race.
• You must be the new IT person.
All Asians are not IT professionals.
• You speak English very well, or did you learn to speak English in America?
You are assuming that everyone who speaks with an accent is foreign born. The fact is that we all speak with an accent; e.g., New England, Southern, British, etc. The appropriate approach should be “I’m not familiar with your accent, may I ask where your accent is from?”
• What’s your native language?
Don’t assume because people look differently or speak differently that they are not natural-born Americans or are from a foreign country. Remember we have military bases all over the world; and don’t forget the Peace Corps or Fortune 500 companies with employees and families spending the bulk of their lives overseas.
• Can you recommend a good Chinese restaurant?
All Asians are not Chinese. Take some time to study a world map. The world is made up of continents with many countries, regions, cultures, and sub-cultures. Remember the news reports about a vice presidential candidate who thought Africa was a country.
• Wow, you are from India! My neighbor Ashok Shah is from India; do you know him?
Think for a minute … do you know every American - or everyone who lives in Dover or Wilmington?
• That’s how a typical white person acts.
You are suggesting that all white people are the same by putting them in the same category. The behavior may have nothing to do with the person’s race.
• I don’t trust white people; they are all racists.
This is stereotyping and totally insensitive. Get to know the person or discuss why the actions may have offended you. Don’t generalize.
• White trailer trash.
Why would you think that referring to someone as trash is acceptable? This is derogatory, and should never ever be used.
• You know we should send all of you back across the border.
Don’t assume because people look differently or speak differently that they are not natural-born Americans. Where did your ancestors come from?
• It is never ever acceptable to refer to a Hispanic/Latino co-worker as a “spic” “wetback” or “hot footer.”
This is derogatory.
• Can you help me out with my landscaping?
Why would you assume that all Hispanics/Latinos are landscaping experts?
• Can you recommend a good Mexican Restaurant?
This is stereotyping and shows ignorance. All Hispanics/Latinos are not Mexicans.