Thursday, September 22, 2016

Discourse matters

My eight-year-old son hates Donald Trump. I know hate is a strong word. I rarely use it (except when describing the most evil of all condiments, mustard. I hate mustard).

But, Donovan hates Donald Trump. All you have to do is mention his name, and he will tell you how much he hates the Donald, and how he has no room in his life for anyone who thinks any differently.

Over the months of listening to our son tell us of his hatred for Trump we never thought to ask why. Until we did.

His answer? If Trump wins he will ban people from other countries from coming to American, and then Zarah will never be able to visit us again.

Zarah is our German daughter. We hosted her as a foreign exchange student three years ago, and she lived with us for 10 months. We visited with her and family in Germany last summer, and last month she returned with her sister for a three week visit. We love Zarah as our own daughter, and Donovan certainly loves her as his big sister.

And in his 8-year-old brain he cannot fathom the thought of Trump winning, implementing his immigrant ban, and keeping D-man from seeing Zarah again. Hence, his hatred of Donald Trump.

Employers, words matter. They may not get you sued in many situations, and, when sued, it takes a lot for an employee to win, but make no mistake, they matter. What you say, or condone others saying, at work about race, sex, religion, immigrants and national origin, disability, age, politics, they all matter, because they all set the tone.

Yet, rarely do those words create liability. In the words of one court, “The pluralism of our society is mirrored in the workplace, creating endless occasions for offense. Civilized people refrain from words and conduct that offend the people around them, but not all workers are civilized all the time. Title VII is not a code of civility.”

No, our workplace laws are not civility codes, but that does not provide us an excuse to behave uncivilized. 

So, yes, Donovan hates Donald Trump, and, in his mind, he has good reason to do so. Your employees might suffer similar offense from the words they hear others utter in your workplace. Just because those words might not be actionable does not mean you should not take action. First, your inaction might lead to liability. But, more importantly, your inaction and inattention signal that you condone, or worse yet, agree with the message. That is not the type of employer you should want to be, and it not the type of employer for which your employees will want to work.