When the owners of National Football League teams decided not to ban players league-wide from kneeling in protest during the national anthem, it brought to public attention the notion that even if employers have the legal right to institute such a ban, staying neutral and working things out is the more prudent strategy. According to an expert from outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, while freedom of speech does not extend into the workplace, NFL owners — and employers in general — should be more focused on compromise than cracking down on employees who express and debate their political views.
“It is surprising to many, but the First Amendment does not extend to workers in private companies. The league does have the right to establish rules with consequences,” said Andrew Challenger, a vice president at the firm, in a statement. “Companies sometimes get dragged into political conflicts against their will. They should try to remain neutral and broker a win-win for both sides.”
A Challenger, Gray and Christmas survey around the issue found that 94 percent of respondents have witnessed political discussions in the workplace, with 18.2 percent reporting that those discussions happening often. So this is not an unusual scenario.
In the case of the NFL, there is no rule in place to force players to stand so no official league punishment for players who protest will happen. As of last Sunday, a scattering of players continued to take a knee during the national anthem, without repercussions.
According to Andrew Challenger, suppressing demonstrating employees by brute force tends to further politicize the situation; the more effective path is to “deescalate the political tension” by having private conversations within the organization.
“In today’s climate, employers recognize political discourse is unavoidable at work. However, employers must be careful that these discussions do not violate anti-discrimination or harassment laws,” he says, adding that management should refrain from political discussions or imposing their own viewpoints on their subordinates. Above all else, he says, respect and professionalism must prevail in the workplace to ensure success and growth.
“The consistent and uniform administration of policies and procedures is the best way to ensure a positive work environment,” regardless of the profession or industry sector, he said.