Discrimination, The Workplace, and Violent Rallies

Posted August 25, 2017 by Mary McGinley

A recent rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia by white nationalists and the violence that erupted has served to inspire public discussion about hate speech and discrimination as they relate to the work environment.

According to a recent article that appeared at Marketplace.Org, several people who took part in the white nationalist rally were identified via social media by using photos taken of them at the events. Some were seen carrying Nazi flags, wearing emblems of the KKK and other white supremacist symbols. Few of those in attendance bothered to conceal their identities as they might have done in the past and they were largely unconcerned with anyone knowing their affiliation with white nationalist sentiments.

Being emboldened to put these beliefs on display for all to see, however, has carried a price for some who were there. Through the use of social media, many who were opposed to the ideals held out by white nationalists participated in the process of identifying people and tracking them down. Once identified, several participants were identified to their employers. In the days following the Charlottesville rally, some of them even ended up losing their jobs.

In the last two weeks, employees and HR professionals alike have been closely examining just what workplace diversity means. Inevitably among people, political views and opinions can vary widely. But what can be done when a worker has been actively identified as having participated in hate speech and how does it relate to a job in the private sector?

Kerry Fields, a business law and ethics professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business discussed these issues on Marketplace Weekend with journalist, Lizzie O’Leary.

Fields says that depending on the kind of work that an employee does for a company can determine whether or not an employer can restrict their right to free speech. While at work, engaging in hate speech can usually get you terminated. However, issues of protection of free speech and privacy can be severely challenged when they are observed even outside the workplace. Employers are rightly concerned that such participation can have a reflection on them. A worker that professes hate speech at a public event and then returns to work can give the impression that can give the impression that it is also the position of the organization that they work for.

“We have to note that last week’s group hatred exercise of bigotry, and carrying weapons and shields and so forth went beyond a normal passive approach, “Fields said.

Because the rally turned violent with innocent people being harmed and three others having died as a result of the day’s events, concerns have been rightfully raised. What can suffer is morale within the company and respect for the products and services of the entire business can take a hit.  

While according to Fields, 42 states currently protect the exercise of political free speech that is guaranteed under the First Amendment when an employee is off the clock, such protections may not be guaranteed when a worker is employed by a private sector company. Depending on local and state laws, most of which tend toward an at-will employment, an employee that has been identified in engaging in such activities, even on their own time, may face disciplinary action or have their positions terminated within the company.

Fields also warns that hate speech is not an exception to the First Amendment. This part of the Constitution does in fact protect even hate speech.  Such speech becomes a crime in the eyes of the law when it is committed on another individual or property is damaged because of that person’s bias. It is at that point that hate speech becomes a hate crime.

Human resource professionals and their organizations are urged to take a close look at their mission statements and overall diversity policies within the workplace. It’s a good idea to reinforce the expectation of how the people within a company relate to each other in order to ensure the morale, the integrity and well-being of everyone who works there. The core values and culture of any company is crucial to this.

At EinsteinHR we offer a full range of HR services for small and medium sized companies. We will work with your company in order to help you determine what matters most to your company and to your staff. Our mission is to help you to attract, hire and retain top talent for your organization.

Contact us today to find out how EinsteinHR can help.