Politics in the workplace: Fertile ground or minefield?

To speak or not to speak, that is the question:

With a primary and a statewide referendum less than two weeks out, and a national election looming, Triangle employees have more to talk about than just work these days. “At the workplace, it’s a common misunderstanding among workers that they have an unfettered First Amendment right to say what they want,” McAtee said. “That’s not necessarily true.”

The truth is, we live in a "right to work" state. Which loosely translated means, "you have very few rights". No union rep to mediate or arbitrate for you, and the bar an employer must meet before letting you go is set so low you could step over it without breaking stride. I'm not trying to scare you silent, just raise your awareness.

In my years in management, I've directly supervised hundreds of employees, and I've also managed managers, the latter often harder than the former. Disputes can arise over the silliest of issues, and sometimes those disputes can have terrible consequences. Careers ruined, with families sliding down the economic ladder in the process, all because of some personality conflict the origin of which the primary antagonists can't even remember clearly when asked.

Those of you who have been out in the workforce for decades know what I'm talking about. You've seen it happen to others if not yourself. You're also probably aware that North Carolina's labor protections leave a lot to be desired. Here's just a sample of Cherie Berry's ideology on defending workers:

An employer can change its wage agreement with an employee at any time, regardless of what the original wage agreement was and without the employee's permission. There are certain requirements that an employer must meet pursuant to the N.C. Wage and Hour Act (WHA) to make changes in its wage agreements, including the reduction of an employee's pay or wage benefits:

An employer cannot reduce an employee's pay below the minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour. However, the employer can reduce an employee's rate of pay all the way down to the minimum wage with proper written notification. An employer also can take away all future earnings of wage benefits from the time of the written notification including the 24-hour notice period.

In addition to the terminology "right to work", there is another phrase that's equally disingenuous yet probably more important to know, and that's "at-will". Basically, an employer in North Carolina can terminate you at any time, for any reason, including no reason. There is no automatic labor board review of your job termination, you would have to file a complaint with the DOL or a civil suit for wrongful termination. And you better be holding two or three smoking guns of documentary proof of maltreatment, because your former coworkers are also "at-will" employees, and asking them to testify on your behalf is tantamount to asking them to quit their job.

Okay, I've probably scared you enough for now. As I mentioned above, my goal is not to stifle you. You should be able to speak your mind at work, without fearing retribution. But you need to exercise a little discretion. Political discussions (like religious ones) can often degenerate into the realm of ad hominem, and you need to know when to back off, and postpone the discussion until cooler heads are present.

Comments

Am I going through a "preachy" phase?

It sure looks like it. Sorry. Meh, it probably won't last, and I should be back to my not-as-clever-as-I-think witticism phase before you know it. Maybe I should do a poll? Or would that signal the beginning of an innocuous yet non-productive poll phase? Hmmm.

Good Reminder ...

...for all during an election cycle....Way too many folks misinterpret their freedoms.

Meet Jay from Alamance County

I spoke to a young man named Jay from Alamance County while I was volunteering for Early Voting on Saturday morning in Orange County. He was accompanying his sister; he had already voted in Mebane earlier that week. He shared a story with us from the 2008 elections that underscores the caution flags raised in this posting.

During the 2008 elections, he wore an Obama shirt to work. He did not work in a position that put him in contact with any customers; only his co-workers saw the shirt. His boss asked him to take it off. He refused. He got fired.

Resistance is Fertile