Questionable behavior using electronic means does not seem to be limited by age, education, or occupation. Recently, a member of the United States House of Representatives was censured—the harshest formal punishment in the House short of expulsion—for posting an anime video that depicted him killing another House representative, who happened to be from the opposing political party, and swinging swords at President Joe Biden. Just another example of the rise of incivility in our society.
This situation got me thinking about the evolution of employee handbooks—in particular, how references to the once-expected employee behaviors of respect, professionalism, and positive intention have become a necessity for employers. Policies are now created and included in handbooks to temper the tolerance of incivility toward coworkers, customers, and supervisors. The use of social media to engage in this type of behavior is on the rise and it creates complicated challenges for Human Resources.
So, what can an employer do?
- Be mindful that the National Labor Relations Act also applies to nonunionized workforces and provides protection to employees who engage in “protected concerted activity” such as discussing wages, working conditions, and the terms and conditions of employment.
- Review your policies to ensure that they reflect your company’s values and that you have defined unacceptable behavior. Does your anti-harassment policy cover this topic? Do you have an anti-bullying policy? A social media policy?
- Familiarize yourself with the state laws protecting employees from retaliation for lawful off-duty conduct. These may be specific to where your employee lives and may apply to work-related as well as personal or social issues.
- Coach and train managers and supervisors to lead by example. When employees notice people with authority behaving a certain way, it reinforces behavior.
Unfortunately, civility is hard to codify or legislate, but you know it when you see it. It’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable.Sandra Day O’ConnorFormer Supreme Court Justice
Sometimes, employers need to be the gatekeepers to protect themselves as well as employees.