On the Horizon? #HR4Civility


First, let me wish you a very happy new year. As I think of all the things for which I hope in this New Year I return time and again to one thing: a wish for civility – in the workplace, in the media and in so many aspects of our lives.  In part I speak of the myriad decisions in which the NLRB has ruled that an employee’s use of mean, rude, derogatory and even profane comments directed to or regarding a coworker or manager is protected under the NLRA.  As employers and HR professionals we get the NLRA – OK most do anyway.  We understand employees’ Section 7 rights; we know they have the right to act in concert to discuss or take action for the benefit and protection of their wages, hours or conditions of employment.  That’s not the issue – or it shouldn’t be. It’s not what they say but how they say it.  I get an employee has the right to say to his manager, HR representative, administrative agency rep or – yes- a union organizer, “Hey!  You [my employer] have not treated me fairly!”  But to say that right extends to the inclusion of profanity?!  “Hey, you SOB! You have not treated me fairly!”  Now I have a problem with that.  And I wish for the U.S. workplace that we might all have a problem with that, including our regulatory agencies. 

And yet this pattern seems so circuitous.  How can we drive civility at work when we are surrounded by incivility in so many other nooks and crannies of our lives?  From television commercials and shows, to Hollyrude to politics, all are replete with pockets of obnoxious, uncivil, unkind conduct and speech. So much so that sometimes I am loathe even reading or watching any media at times.

Here are some of my stories; I suspect you have your own.

  1. An employee asks HR for help.  A significant other is threatening to come to the workplace and harm her.  The employer goes to court and seeks a peace order. The judge rules the employer does not have legal standing; the employee must seek the peace order on her own behalf.  She is too frightened to do so. So nothing is done.
  2. An employee asks a manager for help.  Coworkers who were her BFF’s on Facebook are saying mean things about her and publicly disclosing how much money she makes.  “Tell them to stop!” she pleads.  “It’s no one’s business how much I make.”
  3. An employee calls the company owner on a Saturday in tears.  Coworkers are spreading rumors on Facebook that she is sleeping with the boss. It’s not true and likely to ruin her reputation within the professional community.  She doesn’t have the nerve, time or money to sue for slander or defamation. Like #2, she pleads, “Make them stop…PLEASE!”

But like any good HR professional we want to come to these problems with constructive suggestions. So for each scenario above I share the following proposals:

  1. Instead of seeking legislation that solely imposes fines and penalties upon employers for the acts of a manager who is a workplace bully, let’s simultaneously consider and advocate for workplace violence prevention legislation that enables an employer to be proactive and seek a peace order for those who threaten harm in the workplace.
  2. Before we blindly advance the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 2199 - Section 3(b)(1)(B)) let’s have a dialogue about some of the hidden language therein that gives employees the right to discuss not only their own wages but the wages of a coworker.
  3. Let’s support continued interagency dialogue, such as with and between the EEOC, NLRB and employers (click here and give a Thx to @eric_b_meyer ). Let’s talk about (in)appropriate use of social media by employers and employees. Let’s talk about ways we can take proactive steps together to prevent and correct unlawful harassment. Let’s focus not some much on what employees say as how they say it.

So that’s my vision and wish for 2015. Are you with me?  If so, then let’s get #HR4Civility trending.  Contact your state and Congressional representatives and start a dialogue to advance workplace civility.  Then continue that dialogue in March at SHRM’s Employment Law and Legislative conference.  From the big Hill to the little hills in each of our states, may the #HRVoice be heard; we are #HR4Civility! 


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