“Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?”
“Show respect to people who don’t even deserve it.
Not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours”
“This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
These days, I often find myself reading the news and becoming more concerned about how we relate to one another in and outside the workplace. Recently I read an article about the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Back in September of 2012 the NLRB issued a ruling requiring a car dealer in Illinois to rescind its “Courtesy” rule that prohibited employee use of disrespectful or profane language that could damage the reputation of the dealership in any way. The case was a result of the dealership’s dismissal of an employee due to his comments on Facebook regarding an incident that occurred at the dealership. The NLRB’s decision came on the heels of another NLRB decision regarding the social media policy of a large retailer. Social media policies have been on everyone’s radar as of late.
The NLRB did uphold the employee’s dismissal but questioned a portion of the dealer’s employee handbook. While originally citing four policies it ultimately only ruled regarding one. The dealership’s policy in question read, “Courtesy is the responsibility of every employee. Everyone is expected to be courteous, polite and friendly to our customers, vendors and suppliers, as well as to their fellow employees. No one should be disrespectful or use profanity or any other language which injures the image or reputation of the Dealership.” Seems fair enough in an environment where customer service is paramount and employee interaction is visible to customers. One would expect a reasonable person to be able to interpret and understand this policy.
The NLRB, however, feels that these types of workplace policies are overbroad and impinge on employees’ rights to concerted activity and their ability to discuss workplace terms and conditions of employment. These “rights” are guaranteed under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act enacted in 1935. The decision (2 to 1) was not unanimous with one dissenting Board member who also disagreed with the ruling regarding the retailer’s policy. Regardless, the NLRB felt disclaimers are required for such policies to make it clear they do not limit employees’ Section 7 rights. Click here to see the ruling and some commentary.
Now, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV. I don’t pretend to have all the answers nor do I think the NLRB’s function is unnecessary. However, I have to wonder why the NLRB thinks it needs to protect employees’ right to concerted activity while jeopardizing people’s expectation to treatment with respect within the workplace. Granted, the NLRB’s ruling does not specifically say that respect in the workplace is not required but published interpretations already point to the possibility that argument is plausible under the guise of protecting Section 7 rights.
In addition, this just in – the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a dentist’s dismissal of his assistant because she was too attractive was lawful. The court ruled Friday that bosses in Iowa could fire employees they see as a threat to their marriages, even if the subordinates have not engaged in flirtatious behavior. The court says such firings are not unlawful sex discrimination because they are motivated by feelings, not gender. Excuse me… Both the dentist and the assistant chose to engage in behaviors that placed them on a slippery slope. As so often occurs these days, both parties cried “foul” after their choices caused undesirable consequences. To see the court’s decision click here.
At what point does legislation and legal opinion replace common sense and responsibility? When did we start giving up the right to think for ourselves and need to rely on a group of folks to decide some things we unfortunately choose not to work out among ourselves? Is it not bad enough that we communicate less and less with each other in person and our electronic communications remove the requirement to be civil? Now one could make the case that we do not have to be respectful to our coworkers and customers in exercising our right to comment on our pay and working conditions. Did it ever occur to anyone that as our rights are defined (protected?) by the NLRB and Supreme Courts (state or federal) they could as easily be defined out of existence, as could be the case with respectful treatment in the workplace? The Board giveth and the board taketh away…
Now, let’s talk about being responsible for our own behavior. In the case of the dentist, was the assistant less attractive when he hired her? If either marriage was threatened, why not work on strengthening the marriage(s). Nah, too much trouble, you’re fired! Brilliant – and now legal (at least in Iowa). JD
Who’s Doing Your Laundry?
The expectations we set and the relationships we build with our coworkers set the tone for the success of our organizations. If we cannot treat each other with respect and operate with integrity everyone in our organization and the people it serves or sells to lose. Most of us know what’s right (and what’s not…) as we proceed through our workday. The Golden Rule still makes the most sense when dealing with others. Bear in mind that the absence of communication invites responses as much as good communication does. Those responses tend to fill communication voids, be negative and less of a dialogue.
What if we began to focus on how we work and communicate with each other as a way to improve the work we do? Perhaps we should redirect the energy we currently expend on arbitration and requests for high-level opinions into improving our workplaces as opposed to asking someone else to lay the ground rules by which we conduct business and ourselves. I believe it would be possible to settle more differences of opinion in organizations internally if we choose to do so. Occasionally it is ok to agree to disagree. In some instances, it will still be necessary to rely on the NLRB or a Supreme Court because, after all, we are only human and lack objectivity from time to time. Nevertheless, there will always be dirty laundry to deal with in every organization and the question is, should we take more care in washing it ourselves or send it out?
A friend recently pointed out that HR could stand for human relationships rather than Human Resources. He makes an interesting point. To operate from that perspective would require respecting each other, holding each other accountable and accepting responsibility for our own behaviors. While I respect your right to disagree, I think it is a good idea and I would be interested to hear what you think.
Here to serve,
Next month: Common Sense