Legal

Why #BlackLivesMatter Should Matter to Employers

By Jon Hyman

Jul. 13, 2016

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Earlier this week, an African-American Nashville police officer was decommissioned for changing his Facebook profile photo to that of Black Panther National Chairman Bobby Seale and Huey Newton holding a Colt .45 and a shotgun. The photo became iconic in the 1960s for the Black Power movement. Elsewhere in Tennessee, the Memphis Police Department suspended two police officers for Snapchatting a picture of a white person pointing a gun at a cartoon image of a black child running through a home.

Then, Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell Instagrammed this image, with the caption, “Mood: They give polices all type of weapons and they continuously choose to kill us…#Weak.”

 After social media condemned Crowell, he quickly deleted the post, and offered this apology:

Last week was an emotional and difficult week as we saw extreme acts of violence against black men across our country as well as against police officers in Dallas. I posted an image to Instagram in the midst of that emotion that I shouldn’t have and immediately removed it. It was an extremely poor decision and I apologize for that mistake and for offending people. My values and beliefs do not match that image. I am outraged and upset by the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile along with so many others. I am also outraged and saddened by the attacks in Dallas and the deaths of the 5 honorable police officers (Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa) who were providing protection while trying to keep peace. We have to be better as a society, it’s not about color, it’s about what’s right and wrong. I was very wrong in posting that image. Every single life matters, every death as a result of violence should be treated with equal outrage and penalty.

We live in a fractured society, of which your workplaces are a microcosm. If America is polarized over these issues, so are your workers.

Let’s be clear. If any worker posts threats or offenses, they should be terminated. If any worker protests or vocalizes racist or discriminatory messages, they should be terminated. If, however, an employee is vocalizing opposition to workplace practices, Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision likely protects them, as might the NLRA’s protected concerted activity clause.

Now more than ever you need to preach inclusion to your workers. If you haven’t recently conducted diversity training, now is the time. Your employees are reading about these issues, are bombarded by these videos and images on social media and television, and are thinking and talking about these issues. And since they are thinking and talking about these issues, you should be too, with them. Better to have open discussion than silent discontent.

Being an employer of inclusion makes you part of the solution. If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem, which very much matters.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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