How to Handle Employees Protesting for Social Causes
Apart from answering the same question about whether it's legal or not, for in house and general counsel, it can be a real headache when a company's employees decide they want to protest.
But if it's not your company that your employees want to protest, do you really want HR disciplining employees for walking out to protest gun violence, or to show solidarity with survivors of sexual assault? Generally, in that situation, that answer is going to be no, even though no private employer is likely to face a meritorious claim of First Amendment retaliation, and especially if the harm of an employee skipping a half day of work to attend a protest isn't really costly.
While free speech may be a hallmark of our nation, when it comes to private industry, it may not matter. Simply put, if an employee harms their own reputation via protesting activity, employing that individual could harm the company's reputation.
Ensure the Company Doesn't Union Bust Nor Discriminate
If there's a labor, civil rights, or a union issue related to an employee's protest actions, it might not be the worst idea to circulate an updated memo about the company's non-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies. Seriously, if the protests are even loosely related to unionizing, or a specific labor right, taking action against protesting employees could end up with a stack of paper for you to push. Also, depending on the company's prior actions or other policies, if the cause involves civil rights, there could be some grey areas as to whether any action is appropriate.
Embrace the Times
While you may not want to encourage employees to walk off the job to protest in solidarity with another group, embracing the cause could result in some goodwill gains. Depending on your industry, asking participating employees to wear company clothing at a protest or rally in exchange for time-off is a potential way to promote team building and gain visibility.
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