Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
How can an employer prevent the exposure to racial hate symbols – like the confederate flag – in the workplace?
Beyond proactively increasing security and the number of cameras on site, one of the most effective tools for combating racism in workplaces is to create clear policies and messaging for employees to understand and regularly revisit throughout their employment.
A first line of defense is to revisit and socialize your Equal Employment Opportunity policies, including your anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, anti-retaliation policies, and reporting mechanisms with your workforce. This means ensuring these policies are up to date, and then explaining them to your workforce during regular safety or team meetings.
When editing or drafting such policies, Employers should emphasize the company’s prohibition of harassment and discrimination of all kinds, including that based on race. An employer’s policy can even include specific examples of actions that could be considered racial harassment in the workplace, outside the workplace, or on social media. Such actions might include brandishing Confederate flags and symbols, swastikas, nooses, and horseplay or joking that could be perceived as having racial undertones.
While it is important for employers to communicate that absolutely no harassment will be permitted in the workplace, the EEOC does not endorse the term "zero tolerance" to convey that message and I would therefore avoid using it in your policies. Instead of “zero tolerance,” I’d recommend education.
Employee-wide mandatory training on inclusion, anti-discrimination, anti-retaliation, social media usage, reporting mechanism, and dress code can help reinforce an employer’s values and expectations of employees. Offering a separate and complementary set of manager-specific trainings in this space can help prepare your supervisors to take the right steps if a symbol of hate is reported in the workplace.
As always, please visit Littler.com or consult your Littler attorney for additional guidance on these or issues. AND look for a related Littler 2 the Point segment with ideas on how to address a specific incident of race-based, or otherwise offensive, symbols in the workplace.