I can do better than yesterday’s weak sauce “72 police officers” post

Philadelphia Police - cruiser on Ben Franklin Parkway.jpeg

By ZuzuOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

72 police officers in trouble over offensive Facebook posts is your wake-up call to reeducate employees about responsible social media.”

Yeah, that takeaway stinks.

I should have focused on the conscious bias instead.

Yesterday, at the SHRM Conference, I was talking to a friend about his work in artificial intelligence in HR. Theoretically, one of the benefits of AI in the workplace is the ability to eliminate bias from employment decisions.

Except when it doesn’t.

For example, Amazon ended an AI project last year after it revealed bias against women. So, I commented to my friend that the problem must be unconscious bias. After all, I couldn’t imagine that Amazon would intentionally create an algorithm that would discriminate against women.

Putting AI aside for a moment, I asked my HR friend about the problem with unconscious bias generally in our workplaces.

His sobering response was words to the effect of, “The problem in our workplaces isn’t so much unconscious bias as it is conscious bias.”

Indeed, 72 police officers in a single police department getting disciplined for hate speech on social media isn’t so much about social media responsibility as it is about the hate speech itself.

And before we go any further with this, I want to be clear that the takeaway here is not that there is a systemic problem with law enforcement. You can have that debate on a different blog.

This one deals with employment law issues. And the employment law takeaway is that no employer can afford to tolerate this type of rampant offensive behavior whether online or offline. Otherwise, the company risks endorsing a workplace culture in which discrimination will persist and go unreported because victims will reasonably conclude that management won’t address the problem effectively. When that happens and the hostile work environment lawsuits follow, the company may find itself in an indefensible position.

Instead, use these “72 police officers in a single police department getting disciplined for hate speech on social media” as a reminder that your best weapons against this type of bad behavior are:

  • policies,
  • education and training,
  • enforcement, and
  • buy-in from leadership.



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