Over the weekend, I read this Reddit post. It’s from an individual who says the company will require employees to attend a pro-life celebration today following the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Many of the 1,300 comments focus on the wage-and-hour implications of forcing employees to attend workplace festivities. (Yes, you must pay non-exempt employees to attend mandatory work events — even parties.). But that’s not the point of this blog post.
The Redditor is not the only one who loathes having to attend an event like this. More than half of Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision.
But there are two sides to this coin. About one in three people consider the Dobbs decision “a step forward.”
I don’t expect many “Dobbs parties” at work, but some businesses may express support in more subtle ways for the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Conversely, others will respond by removing obstacles to reproductive care. Still, most will do nothing.
Whatever message the company may send will not align with all workers. That’s practically impossible. Abortion is not an employment issue per se. But many of your employees are outspoken one way or the other about Friday’s ruling. When a polarizing topic resonates with so many employees, company support for either position is bound to inflame employees who don’t share the same views. Even if the company remains “neutral,” some workers may not perceive their employer’s silence as impartiality — but as acceptance.
All told, it is unreasonable to expect all employees to remain silent.
So, how should employers prepare or respond? Attempts at censorship would be counterproductive. Instead, employers should consider proactively communicating with employees about the importance of having respectful conversations about the Dobbs decision.
Setting expectations is essential on professional social networks, like LinkedIn, where employees interact with the organization’s customers, vendors, and other business partners. The line between employees speaking for themselves and others perceiving them as speaking for the company can often blur. Employees who don’t appreciate this distinction — let alone the impact their words can have on the business — risk harming the organization.
Remember those social media policies that we drafted for you way back when? I’ll bet there’s a line in there instructing employees to clarify that they speak for themselves and not the company. There may be other “guidance” about employees thinking twice before hitting “post,” “comment,” “tweet,” etc. Fortunately, most will heed this advice. However, I’ve read a few Roe v. Wade threads on LinkedIn that drip with so much vitriol that they cannot reflect well on the organization.
In some situations, how employees communicate online may cost you business. While it’s essential to address how employees communicate professionally about these issues, let’s distinguish between external communications and those relating to employment terms and conditions. Workers have the right to get together on LinkedIn, Slack, the proverbial water cooler, or otherwise to discuss the terms and conditions of the workplace. That’s called protected concerted activity. For example, employees upset that their company will not offer any new benefits following Friday’s Supreme Court decision may vent with each other without fear of reprisal from the organization. It may be unlawful to discipline employees for having these discussions. Instead, consider engaging with them to work to address their concerns.
Leaders may resist discussing these topics with employees at the risk of creating a distraction from the business. Others will avoid these uncomfortable conversations because they are just that. But the abortion discussion won’t end soon. Consider taking the opportunity now to counsel employees on having respectful and constructive conversations.