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Political Activism: Are You Risking Your Job?

politics and protests on the jobThe First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees US citizens the right to “freedom of speech.” Citizens may freely express themselves in a public forum on any subject, including political topics, and rest assured that there will be no detrimental consequences. This is a known fact and beyond contest. Right?

Think again.

The Devil Is in the Details

The First Amendment reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Oh, those pesky details. Note the amendment specifies “Congress shall make no law.” Unless a person is an employee of Congress, those precious freedom of speech protections may not apply.

Before You Join In

Before you join in a protest or send that Tweet, there are a few precautions you should consider:

  • Understand your company’s policies on employee speech that could potentially be considered negative;
  • Talk to someone you trust at work about what you’re planning and get their input on possible consequences;
  • Find out if anyone in the company has been disciplined for issues relating to speech or political activism.

Online Political Activism Is Risky Business

When social media enters the mix, the potential risks for speaking one’s mind increase exponentially with each “like,” “share” and “tweet.” Expressing political views on a contentious issue or actively promoting and endorsing a candidate (or even not promoting a specific candidate) can pose a risk. If an employer believes an employee’s stated opinion or supported political candidate reflects negatively on the company, or that their actions fall below an expected level of professionalism, the employee may face disciplinary action that could end in termination.

Those practicing activism via the Internet use email, social media postings, live-casting and podcasts to communicate and disseminate information.

Online political activism is usually categorized in one of three ways: awareness and advocacy, organization and mobilization, or action/reaction. Examples could include:

  • Circulating a call-to-action meme about an upcoming politically themed demonstration
  • Posting an essay arguing for or against one side of a political issue on social media
  • Forwarding an email to family, friends and co-workers encouraging them to donate to a candidate’s campaign
  • Circulating petitions supporting or opposing political candidates or issues
  • Advocating for or against an issue by “liking” a posting or meme about it
  • Forwarding “tweets” to family, friends and co-workers that include statements about a candidate or issue, either for or against.
  • Display of a candidate’s photo, banner or slogan on a website or social media page

Any of these activities, even those undertaken from a private home or public venue, or those taking place during nonworking hours can be grounds for discipline and/or termination.

An online footprint can go so far as to hinder one’s chances in the hiring process. Recruiting expert Alysse Metzler, in her 2013 book “The Recruiting Snitch,” found over 70 percent of recruiters for US companies investigate potential employees on social media before hiring. According to Metzler, an online presence dominated by political views raises warning flags.

We the People

It is human nature to take a “That won’t happen to me” approach to hypothetical situations, such as getting fired for making a post to Facebook. But the reality is that it does happen. There are cases now making their way through the court systems in which employers terminated employees for participating in organized activism, for political statements and affiliations.

In the coming years, the lines between what is and is not protected speech may be more clearly delineated. Employers may revise their company handbook or onboarding materials to clarify definitions of which activities are acceptable and which are not.

Until then, take care in what you do and say. Neither employee nor employer is as protected as they may seem.

2017: Changes Coming to HR

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The Human Resources field is changing, and the role of an HR Manager isn’t what it was 20 – or even 10 – years ago. Today’s HR professionals face many challenges that are unique to our ever-changing times. Take a look at the following list

IT Integration

Many hiring managers must work closely with a company’s IT department, in particular when it comes to recruiting and screening potential employees. Technology such as automatic resume review and analytics are playing an increasingly prominent role in today’s HR world.

Employee Engagement

Those entering the workforce today are, in general, far more engaged than those of previous generations. Many view their workplace as an extension of themselves, and not just somewhere to earn a paycheck. While this can be very beneficial to an employer, it means that the HR department may also have to wear many hats and take on tasks like party planning and seeking out employee volunteer opportunities.

Social Media

Employee grievances are far less likely to stay behind closed doors in these social media-saturated times. It’s never been more important for Human Resources managers to deal with any unresolved issues before employees take their complaints to social media – potentially damaging a company’s reputation along the way.

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Remote Work

Increasing numbers of companies are allowing at least some employees to work from home. While this arrangement can provide benefits to both the employee and employer, managing remote workers can bring up some new challenges for the HR department. This may include ensuring the lines of communication stay open and working with department managers to develop a culture of trust and accountability that fits within the flexible work arrangements.

RELATED: How to Build A Successful Remote Workforce

Labor Relations

Unions are nothing new – but the current proliferation of social media and other online activity can affect employees’ potential attempts to organize in major ways. It’s easier than ever for union reps to contact non-unionized employees via electronic means such as email, instant messages and chat forums. Human resources professionals must be aware of any potential employee interest in unionizing so they can take the appropriate actions. Fair or not, the human resources manager is often the first line of defense in communicating the benefits of remaining union-free.

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