By: Kimberly J. Kisner, Esq.
An image shared during a recent diversity training at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Topeka, Kansas has gone viral, causing the tire giant to clarify its stance on permissible speech in the workplace and making private employers nationwide examine their own policies concerning discrimination, political and social expressions.
The controversy unfolded last week after an employee leaked a photo of a slide reportedly presented during the training session regarding what is and what is not considered “acceptable” as part of the company’s zero-tolerance policy on acts of harassment and discrimination.
Under acceptable: Black Lives Matter (BLM), Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride (LGBT).
Listed as unacceptable: Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, MAGA Attire, Political Affiliated Slogans or Material.
After President Trump called for a boycott of the tire maker and its stock took a beating on Wall Street, Goodyear clarified that its corporate policy prohibiting employees from workplace expression in support of any candidate or political party does not preclude employees from showing their support of law enforcement through apparel.
Support for the Black Lives Matter movement and racial justice is stronger than ever before, but certainly not universally accepted. So, what should an employer do when an employee voicing support for the BLM movement clashes with an employee who denounces the movement because they support the “all lives matter” movement?
Even if the conflict remains civil and is not directed to an employee or toward another race, an employee’s words or actions could still create a hostile or offensive work environment, obligating the employer to take corrective action. Now, perhaps more than ever, it is paramount that employers review their current handbook and identify and implement policies that prohibit discrimination and harassment.
Employees who make racial comments or otherwise outwardly malign the cause of racial justice should be disciplined or even discharged as a result of their actions. Prejudiced comments and actions, sometimes known as microaggressions, may not only expose an employer to potential liability but may be driving talent out the door.
Employers working to create or retain a positive and non-discriminatory work environment should provide training on their anti-harassment policies, procedures, and reporting methods. Employment policies should include examples of prohibited behavior including jokes, memes, social media posts and shares. Finally, employers should consider incorporating an online training program for employees covering bias, diversity, inclusion, and sensitivity. Moved to action by national unrest and calls for justice, some online training platforms are now available at reduced or no-cost to employers looking to promote workplace inclusivity.
If you have any questions regarding employee handbooks and the implementation of employee training programs or any other employment law issues, please contact Kimberly J. Kisner. Kim is a Partner with Leech Tishman and a member of the firm’s Employment & Labor, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Litigation and Real Estate Practice Groups. Kim is based in Leech Tishman’s Pittsburgh office and can be reached at 412.261.1600 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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