From protesting for Black Lives Matter to COVID-19 government shutdowns, the past few months have seen a surge in activism and peaceful protesting across the country.
Although they are standing up for what they believe is right, many activist employees have become worried about risking their jobs every time they participate in a peaceful protest or share their politically charged thoughts and opinions on social media. With an increase in activist employees making themselves known, many employers are now as well asking themselves how to deal with employees who protest without disrupting the workplace.
Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all response here, but here are some ideas on how both employers and employees can manage the situation.
Protections for Activist Employees
Some states, including California, Colorado, Louisiana, and New York, protect an employee’s right to engage in political activity. Other states don’t have such employee protection. For instance, when it comes to private companies, employers have the right to fire employees “at will.” This means they can let someone go at any time, for any reason, as long as it’s legal.
When is the Right Time to Protest?
When it comes to peaceful protesting, many employers do not see any major issues as long as it’s done off-hours. However, employees who skip work to protest are at a higher risk for disciplinary action or termination.
The key, however, is consistency. If an employer has no issue allowing employees to take time out of their workday to protest, they should be okay with this regardless of the cause of the protest they are attending.
If an employer is okay with employees protesting COVID-19 government shutdowns, they should have the same support for employees who protest as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Employers cannot pick and choose which causes their company policies should apply to.
Going Against Company Values
The first amendment protects everyone’s freedom of speech. When it comes to private companies, many employers extend more control over what employees say in their workplace, specifically to ensure they uphold the company’s reputation and values.
Some employers may even take action against employees who engage in behavior that goes against company values, even outside the workplace. If an employee makes racist remarks or does something else that goes against company values, for example, an employer has the right to terminate or take disciplinary action against the employee for their behavior outside of the workplace.
When Should Employers Take Disciplinary Action?
A rule of thumb to use here: The more deplorable and offensive the behavior, the more an employer needs to step in. If one employee commits a pattern of offensive behavior rather than a single instance, there’s even more reason for an employer to take disciplinary action.
Another scenario where employers may take action is when employees miss work to protest. In this case, the employee may get in trouble for missing their shift or failing to do their job.
Employers Looking Out for Employees and the Organization as a Whole
In addition to looking out for activist employees, many employers are also looking out for the reputation of their company. In many cases, employers will not shut down an employee’s right to publicly protest or express their beliefs so as not to stifle their freedom of speech.
Firing an employee or taking disciplinary action against them for peaceful protesting will harm the company’s reputation and could lead to an unhappy workforce and backlash from the public.
Keep These Factors in Mind When Working With Employees Who Protest
All organizations should balance the employer’s right to a productive workplace free of disruption with the employees’ right to protest and stand up for what they believe in. They should be able to speak up on social or political matters, especially if something important to them to take a stance.
Here at Infinity Consulting Solutions (ICS), we’re committed to providing our clients and candidates with the guidance and solutions they need in their journeys. If you have any questions related to activist employees or how to deal with employees who protest, please do not hesitate to reach out. We are always here to help employers and candidates along the way.