Second hand smoke: ambient racial harassment at work

Donna Chrobot‐Mason (Director Center for Organizational Leadership, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA)
Belle Rose Ragins (Lubar School of Business, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)
Frank Linnehan (Center for Graduate Studies, Drexel University, Sacramento, California, USA)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Publication date: 28 June 2013



Like “second hand smoke,” the harmful repercussions of racial harassment may extend well beyond the target to impact others at work. This study seeks to examine the “second hand smoke effect”, or ambient racial harassment, which involves exposure to racial harassment aimed at others. The paper examines race differences in awareness of racial harassment and explored work and health‐related outcomes associated with exposure to racial harassment. It also examines organizational tolerance for harassment as a moderator of these relationships.


A diverse sample of 245 employees from three data sources were surveyed. One data source involved White and Black employees in the same organization; the others worked in a variety of organizations across the USA.


Whites were less likely than Blacks to be aware of racial harassment, even when employed in the same workplace. However, awareness of racial harassment predicted negative job attitudes and psychological strain for both Whites and Blacks. These relationships were amplified by perceptions of organizational tolerance for racial harassment.

Research limitations/implications

The study documents ramifications of ambient racial harassment and illuminates a racial divide in awareness of harassment at work that may exacerbate racial conflict and prevent needed organizational change.


The paper extends the construct of ambient racial harassment by measuring a range of overt and subtle forms that vary in type and intensity, and by examining the role of organizational tolerance for racial harassment as a moderator of the relationship between ambient racial harassment and work and health‐related outcomes.



Chrobot‐Mason, D., Rose Ragins, B. and Linnehan, F. (2013), "Second hand smoke: ambient racial harassment at work", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 470-491.

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