HR reprimanded me for discussing protests. Now what?
June 4, 2020 12:10 PM   Subscribe

My boss started a thread in Teams about the BLM protests locally and shared a link to a digital town hall meeting being held by my city’s mayor to discuss the current state of civil unrest. I asked if I could share an informational link to the protestors’ demands (all of which were non-violent and specifically pertaining to current laws and policies). I was given the go ahead by my boss so I posted them. Today my manager told me someone reported my posts to HR and that I was to delete the posts. What exactly are my next steps?

My company has an policy of allowing and supporting “diverse points of view and opinions” in the workplace. There is no policy against political discussion at all. This specific thread was not at all opinionated, but completely informational. Someone got angry and reported me to HR and while my manager fought for me, showed her the thread, and there was no violation recorded on my record, I was told to delete my post from the thread. I feel like this is hypocritical and violates the company’s free speech policy simply because it was related to a very heated and racially charged current event. This happened after the CEO sent out an email stating that he and the company support the African American community, which is far more biased a statement than my simply posting the demand list without a single opinion attached. There was no “ACAB” or “fuck the police” or even “I agree with these demands.” Just “Here’s a list you can reference if you join the town hall meeting.”

I’m livid and while I’m not “in trouble” it feels like now I have enemies on my team and that the company is bending their free speech policy against speaking about the BLM protests. I know it is not wise to discuss politics at work but I have been told my opinion is protected (as long as it isn’t violent or openly hateful of course) and I have, in the past, been actually semi-forced to participate in meetings and group activities in the past that we’re encouraged and condoned by the company as “diversity and inclusivity training” where I have had to discuss my opinions even though I have thought it unwise.

My question is what are my next steps? Is there someone I can contact regarding this or do I just suck it up and move on? Should I contact HR to discuss their policies? I’m already looking for another job and I know now to trust my instinct and keep all discussions focused on work in my next job.
posted by Young Kullervo to Human Relations (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm going to first give you the George Costanza answer: think about what I would do and then do the opposite. The George Costanza answer, in this case, is to let it go.

But... I'm not George Costanza. I totally understand what you're feeling here, and I'd need more before I could move on as well. So my question is, who told you to delete the posts? Did that actually come from HR, or did your boss just tell you that as a suggestion to make things go away? If it's from HR, I'd reach out to the person and ask for more information. Informally, via Slack or maybe email. I'd say something like "hey, I'm not trying to cause trouble, but I don't understand why I'm being told this when there's no policy violation", and just have them recount their thought process. Unless you work for a megacorporation, your HR department probably doesn't have a formal policy that applies here; they're probably just making a judgment call on the fly. Personally, if they admitted that to me, I'd probably be OK with it and delete the post as a thank you for their willingness to engage with me.

Again, though, the whole point of the George Costanza rule is because his/my judgment is pretty bad at this sort of stuff.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:27 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


The delete request came directly from HR to my manager and then to me.
posted by Young Kullervo at 12:30 PM on June 4


You could ask HR for a written policy. It's possible to do this in a neutral-sounding way, such as: "In order to make sure that I (and others) comply with the company policy in the future, can you please send out the written policy?"

This compels HR to draft a policy. As they're writing it, they will probably struggle to write a policy that fits the CEO's statement and yet forbids your post. They will be confronted with their own hypocrisy.

In order to solve their dilemma, they might decide that future posts like yours are actually okay. Or they might stall and procrastinate in creating the policy, but at least you would have succeeded in forcing them to confront their hypocrisy, while sounding perfectly reasonable and harmonious.
posted by cheesecake at 12:34 PM on June 4 [47 favorites]


Id let them delete it if they felt like they werent ready for a discussion but refuse to delete it myself because i wouldnt want to participate in that fuckery.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:35 PM on June 4 [6 favorites]


I see three paths forward for you to choose from. There are probably more.

The easiest is always to just do what you're told. This is your job. You do not have the power here. You can just go "Oh", delete it, and time will pass. You have given away some of your dignity. Some may even say you are part of the problem. But this is your job and is this small stand worth potential future repercussions? Also, I would not believe that this is not on your record for one second. This is totally on your record and is recorded in full details by HR, who are protecting the company from lawsuits. That is what their job is.

The other option is to push the point. Explain that you do not feel you did anything wrong, that the workplace is a diverse place, and nothing you did was worth the outrage someone felt over it, and that you respectfullly decline to remove the post. They have administrators who can remove the post for you. They don't need you to do it. If they want it removed they can remove it, but you do not wish to do so yourself and if that is a problem, let's talk about it.

Or you can just leave it, not talk about it, and see if it blows over. This may work. It may not. You may be forced to take a real path. But generally, no one wants to be dealing with this in their day. It's not anyone fun times. So maybe just not talking about will make it go away because no one else really wants to talk about it either. Maybe the person who reported you feels righteous and that's what they wanted. Your post is still up and that's what you wanted. And everyone else can act like nothing happened.

I am weak. I would choose the first path.
posted by cmm at 12:38 PM on June 4 [3 favorites]


I would start with emailing HR directly as mentioned, if you can do so in a neutral way. You need to get a back a written response from them. If they refuse to give an answer, you should not delete your post. If they give you back an answer you are happy with, you can delete the message. If they give you back an answer that directly contradicts the CEOs statement, then you can absolutely raise this issue higher up the reporting chain, individual HR people do not have the final say on what is allowed. But to do that you need a hard written response from them as evidence.

If they give you back a bad answer, I would first try to find their immediate boss. HR is not some mystical force, the person who emails you either reports to a head of HR or someone like a president/director of operations who can get things changed. You can either email them, or you could go to the CEO directly. But the key here is you need to be very neutral and reasonable in your written words for this to not backfire. It needs to be clear that you want to talk about the POLICY, not about the HR person. I would have someone else look over your message before you send it.

If you feel strongly about this, and you are able to do so without making it personal, I think you have a good chance of using this as a way to help change company culture for the better without it backfiring on you. Honestly now is probably the best time to do this, given what your CEO said, and you may not be the only person who thinks this at the company.
posted by JZig at 12:45 PM on June 4 [18 favorites]


I'm with cmm. Is this the hill you want to die on? Do you want to risk your job fighting this battle? Especially if it may very well mean you lose this job and can't find another one during a pandemic? This could be risking your life and health insurance if things go poorly.

Yeah, morally you should be in the right, but I am a super pragmatist and I just feel like the stakes are way too high to risk it. It's up to you, though. If you ARE willing to (possibly literally now?) die on this hill, than that's your choice. I would personally beg you not to for your own safety, though. It's fucked up that your life and security and health insurance are based on jobs, which are now extremely scarce, but that's the truth for Americans at least, assuming you are one. If this isn't an issue where you are, then up to you.

Sometimes your work betrays you. Sometimes you learn the hard way that it's all lip service and lies, like you just did. Don't believe what people say, believe what people do. Now you've learned that this job is not safe to speak up at. If you can manage to get another job, great! But right now.... I wouldn't risk it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:49 PM on June 4 [4 favorites]


I think the kind of nuclear response would be to email the HR person and your boss back, perhaps cc'ing that HR person's boss and say "after our diversity and inclusion training of [date] and our CEO's statement of [date], I am concerned that deleting my link will give the impression that our company is intolerant and not adhering to our stated values.

However I don't blame you if you choose to let it go at this point.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:49 PM on June 4 [17 favorites]


I know it is not wise to discuss politics at work

And now you know why.

Stepping back, running an employee mailing list has nothing to do with the business your company is in. From the company's perspective providing a community bulletin board is all overhead, a way to keep the employees happy. It is supported, as you noted, right up to the point where anything that distracts people from work happens.

So that's working life at most companies. You certainly can push for more clarity and consistency in the mailing list rules, but it's going to be seen as haggling over a very low priority activity. In fact they might just choose to delete the mailing list instead of deal with it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:56 PM on June 4 [6 favorites]


I think the kind of nuclear response would be to email the HR person and your boss back, perhaps cc'ing that HR person's boss and say "after our diversity and inclusion training of [date] and our CEO's statement of [date], I am concerned that deleting my link will give the impression that our company is intolerant and not adhering to our stated values."

I don't think that this is a nuclear option, not unless you think your organization is very controlling (doesn't sound like it). To ensure that is it less nuclear, you can email/speak privately with the HR person and your manager, not in a "gotcha" kind of way, but in a way that reminds the HR person how this really would look to other employees. The fact is that deleting your post probably would give the impression that your organization is intolerant, and could have a chilling effect for employees of colour. This is likely what the original complainer wanted, but I can imagine that HR thinks they are just keeping the peace. If you feel comfortable, you can quietly remind HR that sometimes "keeping the peace" ends up supporting a problematic status quo.
posted by jb at 1:04 PM on June 4 [16 favorites]


You're right, they're wrong. Delete it, move on. Expecting rational, consistent, and ethical policies from a corporation is a fools errand.

Even the ones who say, "staff is family." They'll drop you in a hot second if anything is perceived to affect their reputation.

Corporations are people: assholes and bullies.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:10 PM on June 4 [7 favorites]


You keep emphasizing that you didn't express an opinion, but linking to the protester's demands is expressing an opinion. If it weren't, you wouldn't be upset that your HR department doesn't want it posted. There is no such thing as purely factual information. As much as decent people everywhere are going to support your point of view, it is a point of view. And someone objected to that point of view. HR really had no choice but to act on that. They are running a business, and rules for businesses apply.

I would let this go and put your energy into supporting the protesters outside of your workplace. Lots of companies are giving lip service to BLM right now. It's meaningless. They've decided that they will look better if they claim to be supportive. It's not a true commitment to anything. Your company is taking part in that. Your support of meaningful change will be more effective outside of the corporate bullshit.
posted by FencingGal at 1:16 PM on June 4 [6 favorites]


Well, I am lucky to work for a boss I feel I could address this with. I know I am lucky. But if there is a message I have heard repeatedly in recent days, it is that now is not the time for silence.

Please if you feel you would be jeopardizing your job, nobody can decide for you. It is a fact that jobs are increasingly in short supply.

But I think both cheesecake and warriorqueen have provided excellent, non-confrontational scripts. I would choose one of those. But no one can choose for you.
posted by Glinn at 1:16 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


Is there someone I can contact regarding this

Yes, you can contact a lawyer (MeFi Wiki) for a consultation about your options for how to proceed, in the context of your specific situation and the laws that apply in your jurisdiction.
posted by katra at 1:43 PM on June 4 [5 favorites]


I certainly think it's worth pushing back on. Leverage your privilege and your voice. Send HR and your manager an e-mail requesting clarification of their policy. Don't delete the link.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:43 PM on June 4 [5 favorites]


"My company has an policy of allowing and supporting “diverse points of view and opinions” in the workplace."

Your company has this policy for exactly as long as they want to have it, and when it doesn't serve their needs, they are not obliged to maintain it. You don't really have "free speech" at work, you only have it to the degree the the boss (wo)man allows. (Unless there is a union contract involved in this somehow that we don't know about...?)

Do what your boss told you to do, keep your job secure, and put your energy into activities outside of work.
posted by mccxxiii at 1:55 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


I would not be surprised if this were a "squeaky wheel" problem (in fact, I'd be surprised if it weren't). Someone complains to HR, HR's reaction is to make the problem go away. It doesn't matter what the merits are.

One way to discourage that kind of response is to show them that hey, by trying to solve the problem, they've created a new squeaky wheel. I think that being politely and professionally insistent and following cheesecake's script upthread will—if not have the desired outcome—at least show them that catering to the squeaky wheel isn't the path of least resistance.
posted by adamrice at 2:02 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


Just as an unexpected update: My boss was so pissed off on my behalf that went to the head of HR and the head of Diversity and this has gone all the way up the chain to the CEO. It's being reviewed as a contradiction of company policy and I am told I am 100% protected. Ironically, my manager messaged my boss about the reprimand during a leadership meeting where they were discussing their opinions on the protests. So I guess I accidentally shook up some shit company wide.

Thank you for the input, I really appreciate everyone's insight. It helped me gain some clarity and calm down considerably but it looks like it's being taken care of for me.
posted by Young Kullervo at 2:15 PM on June 4 [107 favorites]


Document your activity in that thread & your links with screenshots, anyway.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:20 PM on June 4 [8 favorites]


My boss has a screenshot of the thread and he sent it to the CEO and all the other members of leadership lol. No idea what is going to happen. I'll take one anyway regardless.
posted by Young Kullervo at 2:23 PM on June 4 [14 favorites]


You keep emphasizing that you didn't express an opinion, but linking to the protester's demands is expressing an opinion. If it weren't, you wouldn't be upset that your HR department doesn't want it posted. There is no such thing as purely factual information. As much as decent people everywhere are going to support your point of view, it is a point of view. And someone objected to that point of view. HR really had no choice but to act on that. They are running a business, and rules for businesses apply.

Look, I say this as someone who is black, but FencingGal's words are key AF here. In a business setting, you have to be extremely careful not to do anything that could imply support for the more problematic parts of the protests. To be perfectly honest, figuring out something completely safe to say is so challenging that it might make more sense to stay entirely quiet on the issue.

Yeah, yeah, I know, supposedly that makes you a bad ally. But here's an actual POC telling you that it's okay to feign an apolitical stance at work if you don't have enough political capital to make it okay for you to be political. This incident has proven that you don't, sadly, but it's best to just roll with it and leverage your voice in safer spaces. Unless, that is, you're not too fussed about your job or a stable of good references.
posted by blerghamot at 2:45 PM on June 4 [8 favorites]


Following your update, I would now just leave it all be and let it happen as it does and be super gracious whatever the outcome (you posted in good faith, it was taken out of your hands). Your boss has your back and it's being taken seriously. This is as good as it gets from where you're sitting and you don't sound like you have any extra political capital in the organisation that it would help to spend at this point.
posted by plonkee at 3:19 PM on June 4 [5 favorites]


To add, you might do other things at other points in the future. I mean specifically on posting the protestors demands you've done as much as is reasonably possible at this organisation. Doing more will probably piss people off and won't accomplish anything extra.
posted by plonkee at 3:21 PM on June 4


Honestly, I'm autstic and my inclination is just to find and spread information, usually without bias. I definitely keep my personal opinions to myself at work because yeah, I'm not an idiot. I didn't go into the chat with a political agenda even though I support BLM personally. I had been doing the same thing for Covid-19 research in that chat, so in my mind, it was purely objective information that people could do whatever they wanted with. I like to provide info on current events because the more knowledge one has the less likely they are to feel the world is out of control. I had been having arguments with my friends, who also support BLM, that there were no goals or demands, and so when they were actually made by official organizations behind the protests, there was a sense of "At least we know now." I definitely see how it could be treated as a political statement, but in my head, simply saying a document exist in reality isn't the same as saying I agree with it, and there was definitely no discussion of it after it was posted. Maybe other people are not so actively interested in information for the sake of having it. IDK.

My anger was not so much that it got taken down because someone got mad at me for assigning an opinion I didn't express or because they obviously don't agree with the BLM movement, but more so because it was hypocritical of the company to say one thing and then act another.
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:26 PM on June 4 [4 favorites]


You do more good to racial equality by being employed as long as you’re not a violent cop or whatever. I’d let this one go.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 4:02 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I see that this is going upstairs and no longer in your direct control, but that would have been my suggestion - talk to the manager or boss that has already demonstrated that they have your back on this. They are higher up in the org, support your position, and aware of what options you may have and perhaps some insight into the policies or people that started it off. I would keep it in unofficial channels, simply saying, "thanks for going to bat for me here, I'm not sure what I can do next but I feel I should do something" may both open up paths for you and also spur that supportive person into taking the next step.

This way you're not answering a squeaky wheel with a louder squeak, but possibly putting the grease where it belongs. I don't know if that metaphor makes sense.

I hope this resolves happily!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:26 PM on June 4 [3 favorites]


My boss was so pissed off on my behalf that went to the head of HR and the head of Diversity and this has gone all the way up the chain to the CEO. It's being reviewed as a contradiction of company policy and I am told I am 100% protected.

Good. This is the way it's supposed to work in a company that has a diversity policy that isn't just a stupid smokescreen. You asked before posting. You were given the okay. This is your boss's problem to sort out and not yours.

There's a thing in the US where we act like saying 'Buy Pepsi" is a neutral statement and "Don't buy Pepsi" is a political statement. I think they're both political, in a way, but my view is not normative. I'm also a librarian who tries to give people the information they are asking for. However, we've all got limited resources (bandwidth, time, money) and so making the one link you share a protestors demand link gives an impression even if it's not stating an opinion (one I happen to agree with and I wish there were more of us and fewer "complain to HR" people in this scenario). And depending what people are likely to do with that impression, it may or may not be a thing that you can safely get away with at work. Just adding this context in case it's helpful. I really hope this works out for you.
posted by jessamyn at 5:53 PM on June 4 [15 favorites]


The last update I received from my boss is the the Head of HR is livid that I was told to delete the post and policy is being discussed with the HR admin that took the case and made the judgment call. My boss wants them fired (I don’t). I’m not concerned about my job at all now, I just hope it leads to clearer policies and actions in the future.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:46 PM on June 4 [46 favorites]


This is why you don't just do what some random HR drone says, especially if it seems contradictory to recent leadership messages. ALWAYS at least ask how it follows with recently-stated policy, because too often low-level HR people are not operating under judgement they are just following what they think the rulebook looks like. Good job, you, and I'm glad to hear your boss had your back.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:43 PM on June 4 [8 favorites]


Wow, this thread was a rollercoaster and now additional updates which seem so positive make it a very nice thing to see today. I just want to say you did great. You thought about it and asked for input. That a decision was made before you had to make one does not negate your thoughtfulness.
posted by Glinn at 8:09 AM on June 5 [5 favorites]


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