I was recently terminated from my job as a part-time Administrative Assistant. My performance review was stellar—zero complaints, perfect attendance, great attitude and work ethic—and I had absolutely no indication that my job was even in jeopardy.
One afternoon, I walked into the office ready to work and in less than 5 minutes time, I was sat down, fired, made to sign a letter and given a pittance severance. I was then hovered over while I quickly got my things from my desk drawer and walked out. They would not even allow me to gather my items from the refrigerator. The CFO and COO literally rushed the entire process so fast I couldn't even think straight and I refer to the event as an "ambush."
I understand that an employee cannot be fired due to age, race, gender, or free speech about a topic of social concern. I was fired a short time after I politely expressed my opposition to hunting because the COO was openly discussing his obsession with stalking and killing animals, in graphic and disturbing detail, in my office during business hours.
Did he violate the law in firing me?
Dear Feeling Ambushed,
The First Amendment guarantees all of us the right to say whatever we think, whenever we want to, right? Well, no. You can't be arrested for saying something—with a few exceptions—but you can be fired.
Your boss fired you for objecting to the COO's hunting hobby. There's no right to denigrate your boss's favorite hobby—even if it's a matter of social concern. While there isn't a right to completely free speech at work, there are some instances when your boss can't fire you. Here are three times when speech is protected at work.
(Please note, this is speaking according to federal law, as states vary in their employee protections.)
Speaking a Language Other Than English With Coworkers
If your job involves safety, your boss can require you to speak English while you're actively working. If your customers are English speaking, your employer can require you to speak English in their presence. But even if your boss feels that safety is an issue—requiring you to speak English during active duty—she has to give you a warning before terminating you.
However, you can chat with your coworkers in your native language during breaks. Speaking another language won't protect you entirely though—if you're saying negative things about customers or other staff members, expect to get your head handed to you on a platter.
Talking about Working Conditions
The National Labor Relations Act protects your rights to talk about your working conditions with your coworkers. How extreme are these "rights"? Well, consider the case where an employee posted this about his boss, named Bob, on his Facebook page:
"Bob is such a NASTY [redacted] don't know how to talk to people!!!!!! [Redacted] his mother and his entire [redacted] family!!!! What a LOSER!!!! Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!!"
The employee was fired, but the NLRB reversed his termination because they considered his post one that discussed workplace conditions along with a pro-union statement. Since he had coworkers who were his Facebook friends, the company lost out.
This doesn't mean you can't discipline an employee for insubordination, but you should be careful that what your employee is doing isn't discussing working conditions with co-workers—which includes discussions about salary.
Talking About Politics Out of the Office
I thought the political rhetoric would go away after the election ended, but it hasn't seemed to have quieted down any. Can you prohibit political discussion at work? And is it legal to fire someone for supporting or not supporting your chosen political party?
In most of the US, you can fire people for their political views, but you shouldn't. If political speech is causing problems, prohibit it. Make it a blanket policy or let it go. If you do allow political speech, make sure you shut down mean talk. It's bullying, even if you perceive it as a good cause.
I'll leave you with this anecdote: Once upon a time, Barbra Streisand tried to prohibit any photos of her house from being published, and as a result far more people saw the photos—if she had ignored the issue, it likely wouldn't have spread to so many eyes. So, if you're going to take a stand and punish an employee for saying something, stop and consider what this will do to your business if it goes viral. It probably won't go viral, but what if it does? If you'll come out looking reasonable and the law is on your side, go for it. If you'll come out looking like a bully or the law isn't on your side, consider dialing it back.
Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady
Photo: Creative Commons
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Ten Dad-Friendly Workplaces
When we talk about the quest to "have it all," it's almost always in reference to working women trying to balance a stressful 9-to-5 with the equally difficult demands of family. To be sure, women face distinct challenges in the workplace and high expectations at home. But this Father's Day, let's not forget that dads are increasingly juggling work and home life, too. Single fatherhood is becoming more common in the US—a 2013 Pew report found that a record 8 percent of families with children were headed by a single dad—and 60 percent of households with children are dual-income as of 2014, putting added pressure on both working parents. While policies in the US do not mandate paid family leave of any kind—unlike parent-topia Sweden, which offers 16 months of paid parental leave and three months specifically for paternity leave—many companies are now thinking about how they can help their workers be "Employee of the Year," without sacrificing their "Dad of the Year" trophy. Here are ten excellent companies for working dads, based on a new report from parenting resource website Fatherly. 1. Google Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Mountain View, CA Number Of Employees: 53,600 Paid Paternity Leave: 7 weeks (12 weeks for primary caregiver) Industry: Tech Dad-friendly Policy Highlight: When you work with Google, your family is part of the family—really. If an employee passes away, the company provides his/her spouse with 50 percent of their salary for 10 years and immediately vested stock options, and children receive $1,000 a month until they turn 19 (or 23 if they're a student). 2. Facebook Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Menlo Park, CA Number Of Employees: 10,082 Paid Paternity Leave: 17 weeks Industry: Tech Policy Highlight: Procreating pays off. Facebook gives new parents a $4,000 "new child benefit," along with subsidized day care. 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State Street Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Boston, MA Number Of Employees: 29,530 Paid Paternity Leave: 4 weeks Industry: Finance Policy Highlight: Flexible work arrangements are a must for the busy working dad (or mom). State Street's program helps take the stress out of setting up some work-from-home time by requiring their managers to approach their employees about flexible work options. 6. Genentech Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: San Francisco, CA Number Of Employees: 14,000 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks Industry: Biotech Policy Highlight: Along with dedicated paid paternity time, Genentech also offers a sabbatical program for long-term employees. Every six years, you earn six months of time off—perfect for a long summer trip with the kids. 7. LinkedIn Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Mountain View, CA Number Of Employees: 6,800 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks Industry: Tech Policy Highlight: LinkedIn likes to encourage employees to think outside their cubicle and, in addition to "special projects" time once a month, you will get a $5,000 stipend for job-related education expenses. Maybe "Childcare 101" would qualify? 8. Arnold & Porter LLP Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Washington D.C. Number Of Employees: 1,284 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks (18 for primary caregiver) Industry: Legal Policy Highlights: If your spouse or partner is gainfully employed and you'd like to trade some of those work hours for family time, Arnold and Porter allows employees working at least 25 hours to qualify for benefits. The firm even has an expert panel on hand to help their lawyers make the switch to part-time. 9. Roche Diagnostics Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Indianapolis, IN (North American HQ) Number Of Employees: 4,500 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks Industry: Healthcare Policy Highlight: Roche employees have plenty of opportunities to teach Junior essential life lessons like how to swing a bat or grow a juicy tomato. The company spends $35,000 annually on sponsored extracurriculars like community sports leagues, and also offers an on-site employee produce garden. 10. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: New York, NY Number Of Employees: 41,000 (U.S.) Paid Parental Leave: 6 weeks (plus an additional 2 weeks if have or adopt more than one kid) Industry: Professional Services Policy Highlight: Another company that values ad-hoc work schedules, PwC allows employees work-from-home options as well as ""Flex Days." 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