While we had hoped for a week of news on the lighter side, who would have thought that intense racial tension and violence would provide a break from a deadly virus? At least we’re not talking this week about the PPP or anything starting with a “P.” The ongoing protests (oh sorry that starts with a “p”) have shone yet another spotlight on the role of employers in addressing social issues. Just as we saw new legislation and changes to corporate policies and culture resulting from the national focus on sexual harassment during the last 3 years, so too will we see similar pressures playing out in the workplace from these events. Many employers have quickly made statements denouncing racism, police brutality, the killing of George Floyd or all of the above. Some were directed to the public, some just to their employees or both. Their motives for such statements no doubt ranged from heartfelt sentiments, to just being good for brand image or employee morale or all of the above. But this is not over and employers will continue to be under pressure to do more.

In our ongoing effort to always see the bright side and provide pragmatic advice, we’ve found a new way to help you make the tough decisions about which of your employees will not be returning from furlough: start by checking their social media posts. While employees are certainly free to express their views, they are not protected from the consequences of doing so, including losing their jobs. That is true at least in 46 states. The four exceptions – California, New York, Colorado and North Dakota – have laws that prohibit employers from terminating an employee for lawful activities outside of work.

Stunningly, during the last few weeks, we’ve seen countless examples of employees who simply don’t know how to keep their thoughts to themselves or have yet to figure out how the World Wide Web works. After the 2017 events in Charlottesville, social media posters began outing white supremacist participants, identifying their employers, resulting in terminations and public denouncements by those employers. This time, employees with views divergent from the BLM protestors have expressed their views, outed themselves and been terminated without ever leaving their homes. We must at least admire their strict adherence to social distancing rules. Some notable examples include:

  • The SC hospital worker who posted on FB: I’ve never seen a [racial slur] peacefully kneel to anyone in my life. They think everybody owes them something. What a joke!!! She’s now looking for a new place to be a healthcare hero.
  • The Mississippi jail sergeant who posted: If he can scream he can breath (sic)…. I’ve been pepper sprayed with CS gas and it messes with your breathing but you can definitely still breath (sic).It apparently also messes with your brain. He’s looking for a new jail.
  • A now former SC court clerk who wrote: … shoot their a**, lock them up, stop their food stamps… take their children… they are showing their true colors…

Meanwhile, up north, we have our share too.

  • A Long Island real estate agent got axed after posting a video of himself with an assault rifle while proclaiming: My response to the looting and rioting that’s going on … I wish a [N-word] would…. Please, I want to use it. Here’s the great thing: he worked for his parents’ real estate agency. You’ve got to be really dumb to get fired by your parents.
  • But don’t worry pal, have we got a girl for you.  The husband and wife owners of Holy Land, a Twin Cities gourmet grocery chain fired their own daughter when her racist social media posts from 8 years ago re-surfaced. 

Rumor has it that CBS is considering a reality reboot of All in the Family with these 2 crews.

  • The arts aren’t immune either, as the Austin Symphony and Opera fired their principal trombonist after she posted: Trump didn’t kill someone, but in your black minds, everything is his fault. The BLACKS are looting and destroying their environment. They deserve what they get. Seriously, how important is the trombone anyway? Quick, name a famous trombone player.

Not all the posts resulting in terminations were racist. The Evil Genius brewery in PA fired its head brewer for his selfie in which he is holding up his middle finger while wearing a shirt bearing the acronym ACAB (all cops are bastards) and his own caption, if they could listen to reason they wouldn’t become cops. The brewery promptly packed his stuff and called him acab.

More noteworthy though is the termination of the Facebook employee for his attack on none other than Mark Zukerberg. The post criticized Zukerberg for not denouncing a Tweet from the leader of the free world that went something like, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Interestingly, the employee wrote of his public criticism of the boss, I don’t doubt [it] violates Facebook’s respectful workplace policy… I’m not claiming I was unjustly terminated. Now that’s a guy who lives by Go big or Go Home. In this case, he did both.

Just as with the backlash against sexual harassment, employers will no doubt face new pressures in recruiting, promotion, policies and training. We’ve been conducting diversity training since the mid-90s in just about any work environment that you can imagine, including police departments. As a result, we have a unique perspective and gained some valuable insights that we’d like to share. 

Diversity training is worth doing, but only if it is done right. Nobody wants or needs to be told how to think and feel, at least not at work (that’s what home is all about). This kind of training cannot be about lecturing employees on how wrong it is to feel prejudices and dictating the “right” way to think. That doesn’t work and creates even deeper resentments and divide. There is simply no point in conducting any form of training if the underlying message will not be heard. And we have seen plenty of participants who shut down when they believe they are being judged. Beliefs and perceptions ingrained from childhood and/or life experiences are tough to let go and won’t change in a 2 hour training session, especially one that is judgmental or preachy in approach. 

Many employees make it clear from the outset that they will not speak because they don’t want to “get in trouble” for expressing views that are not “politically correct”. Those people are easily identified by an experienced trainer. Body language and facial expression almost always give them away. But many of the barriers of even those reluctant to participate can be pierced by training in a language that is not threatening; by initially addressing prejudices that are not about skin color or national origin that anyone in the room may share. Recognizing that we all have prejudices, meaning simply, pre-judgments about people we don’t know based on superficial characteristics that we can see, is the most important starting point.

Back in the old days when we could walk around freely, we’d size up people all day, just usually not out loud. That fat guy must be lazy, that skinny pale guy must be on drugs, that guy with the backwards baseball hat must be a dope, the guy with the bandana must be in a gang. Oh, never mind, he’s using it as a mask. Or is he robbing that bank? After all, he’s in a gang. You get the point. Once everyone in the room understands that we can talk about prejudice in a non-threatening way that we can all relate to, we have opened the door, even if just slightly, to understanding how important perspective on diversity can be in making the workplace a better place. 

We’d be glad to help.