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Employment Law Blog

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Calm Before the Storm: How to Keep an “Incident” from becoming a “Situation”.

Hello All,

Before I jump right into it, let me go ahead and paint a picture for you:

It is 8am on a Monday morning and traffic was non-existent (Did everyone take the bus?), the drivers that were on the road gave you the right of way each and every time (Do these people owe me money or something?), the birds are singing your favorite song (my personal favorite is Rainbow Connection by the Carpenters.), and the sun is shining so bright that you swear its smiling like the sun on the front of those old Raisin Bran cereal boxes.  You have a certain amount of guarded optimism because things are so quiet and peaceful.  Well by now it is 11am and you start to think that this Monday may not be so manic after all.  All of your employees are working like a well-oiled machine and there arent any blazing infernos that need to be put out. 

Just as you start to relax, you receive a phone call from one of your departmental managers stating that an unknown employee has put an Anti-Abortion poster up on the break room wall.  Well you might say to yourself, It is just one poster.  I will just go ahead and have it taken down and not make a big deal (aka ORDEAL) out of it. Well that may work in the short run.  But what if someone already saw that poster and decided that it was their moral duty to go and place some Pro-Choice posters up when he/she comes in the next day?  Or what if you had an employee who because of personal experience, saw the Anti-Abortion poster and became offended by its content prompting them to notify an outside organization?  Would just taking down the poster be enough?  Would doing that cause for that drizzle to turn into a storm?

In my humble opinion, I always make sure to be swift and definite in my actions when it comes to these kinds of things.  I would do the following:

—-Write up a memo reminding all employees of the companys Posting Policy and the impending disciplinary actions that could result from a
  violation of the policy.  I would post up copies of the memo in common areas like the break room, restroom door, time-clock, etc.

—-Depending on the contents of the posting and its severity, I would also consider having a staff meeting to verbally notify all employees about the
  Posting Policy as well.  Again, this may not be necessary.  It would strictly be a judgment call on my part.

—-I would notify all managers of the incident and advise them to keep a look out for any employees who feel the need to express themselves by
  posting things on company property.

—-I would make sure to become even more visible in order to send a silent message that HR is watching.  grin  This doesnt have to be done
  blatantly.  This could be accomplished by simply walking around and speaking to employees about their day or the kind of work that they are
  doing.

All in all, I really feel as if it is a lot more beneficial to be proactive as opposed to reactive.  Communication with employees is key.  Again, this can be done by written communication and/or verbal communication.  If communication has been established and an employee still violates the policy, he/she cannot say that he/she was not aware or notified of the policy and the consequences of violating it. 

In closing, it is always important to let employees know that freedom of speech is not absolute when it comes to the workplace.  In other words, the workplace is no place for everyone to express their moral, religious, racial, or personal beliefs.  In addition, it is also imperative that we make sure that employees feel like they can come to a place where they do not have to worry about being ambushed by someones beliefs or expressions.  As an HR professional, it is crucial that we nip a potentially volatile situation in the bud before it goes from a little light rain to something similar to a tropical storm.  Being concise and decisive in your actions will go a long way towards taking care of an isolated incident before it becomes a company-wide situation. 

As always, this is an open forum for discussion.  Please feel free to comment with your own professional experiences and how they were handled.  Would you have done anything differently?  How did your employees react to your actions?  As far as my opinion on things is concerned, do you agree or disagree?  Let me know what you think or what you’ve done when faced with this particular situation.

Remember, dont talk about it, BLOG about it! Have a good one!

Jack Carter
HR Professional

Posted by Patrick Della Valle on 01/22 at 03:23 PM
Employment LawHuman Resources • • Member Discussion