How employers are preparing for Workplace Issues Arising from External Demonstration and Rallies?
Updated: Nov 21, 2021
No workplace is protected from the effects of external protests on employee relations, including those regarding political candidates, civil rights issues, climate change, privacy, and others. Employers should be taking steps to prepare for and respond quickly to workplace-related issues.
Set clear expectations early. Communicate often.
1. Understand free speech. Many disruptions derive from employees thinking they have the right to free speech in the workplace. Be prepared to explain that the First Amendment only prohibits the government from restricting free speech, not private employers, and, therefore, the company can set its own expectations for the workplace.
Employees do have the right to protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act, which would allow them to discuss the terms and conditions of their work with one another. Protested issues could include those that affect working terms, such as debates about health care; If so, employees must be allowed to speak on these issues.
2. Review policies. Ensure your workplace behavior policies are applicable to protest-related issues, such as using specific definitions where possible. These should set the expectations for employees in a clear manner. Example policies include:
Conduct/civility - define what "civility" means to establish expectations. Better yet, involve employees in the definition so they can take ownership and be accountable.
Harassment/bullying - include expectations to respect those who choose or do not choose to protest or whose beliefs are different.
Social media - set expectations that employees may not post content that could damage the employer or that is discriminatory or harassing.
Dress code - define terms like "inappropriate" dress, including slogans or graphics on apparel, including masks.
Office appearance/decorations—determine what type of personal decorations at workstations are allowable or not, including religious and political slogans or graphics.
3. Review employee assistance programs (EAP). Demonstration, protests, and rallies can invite stress into our personal and professional lives. Stress, depression, and anxiety may be heightened, and additional support from an EAP could be a lifeline to your employees and their family members. Review your policy for coverage (are both employees and family members covered? And for program offerings both in person and virtual.
4. Train. Supervisor and managers will need the tools and skills to manage disruptions and promote respect at work. Whether training is outsourced or developed in-house, topics should include:
Empathy and listening skills.
Business conduct expectations for the team.
Monitoring employee interactions for charged exchanges.
Disciplining actions, not opinions.
Handling disruptions in the workplace
Clearly define off-duty conduct laws that may limit employment actions.
5. Update diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Keep in mind the oft-quoted maxim: "Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance." Revisit DEI initiatives that may have grown stale or are not effective. Consider:
Personality types, thinking style and other factors that influence how people see the world.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) centered on not just race and gender but on other characteristics, such as age, veteran status, people with disabilities, caregivers, or sexual and gender identity (key takeaway be inclusive).
6. Prepare messaging and communications. Senior leadership should partner together to determine their organizations stance. Create messaging guidelines and communicate your stance outwardly. Remember to:
Communicate to managers and employees.
Reassure they are not the last to know where the organization stands.
Create a safe space for employees to discuss, ask questions and provide feedback in a manner that is respectful to all.
Leverage technology when appropriate to keep employees and management connected.
Develop social media messaging and policies, if appropriate, to align with your brand.
7. Have answers ready. There are common questions and issues that arise from employees taking time off to protest. Your organization should have an understanding when employees may be disciplined as it relates to protesting (lean into your policies – that is why you have them after all).
For more ideas or looking for training providers please contact Taryn M Consulting LLC for more information.
Ideas and suggestions provided by SHRM.