Racism: What is and isn’t acceptable behavior when off-the-clock

One of your employees has become involved with a movement that may be considered racism, but their involvement is off-the-clock. What should you do?



Racial violence and related events have flooded the news outlets recently, which has sparked questions about what employers can do for off-the-clock racial behavior.

Here are the answers to what you may have been wondering.

Is it ok for employees to be affiliated with “Black Lives Matter”?

Supporting any movement that brings awareness and recognition to discriminatory practices such as racism is acceptable. Employees just need to be sure their actions and behaviors within the movement promote positive, legal behavior --- even when after hours.

Should I discipline an employee for participating in a rally?

This largely depends on the purpose of the rally and the behavior exerted while at the rally.

When an employee participates in a peaceful rally that simply favors one political party over another or supports issues that are protected by legal doctrine, that presents no legal concerns.

However, when an employee participates in a rally that is contrary to the doctrine of anti-discrimination laws (for example, white supremacists), disciplinary action may be appropriate. All employees have the right to work and should feel safe in a non-threatening environment. When a coworker participates or engages in any activity that threatens an employee from a protected class, it impairs performance, harms a formerly non-threatening environment, and damages a company’s image.

While disciplinary action would be inappropriate for simply participating in a rally (assuming the rally is in line with anti-discrimination laws), unruly behavior may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Can I fire an employee for rioting at a rally?

Employees are oftentimes affiliated with a company, even when off-the-clock. Therefore, firing an employee for criminal activity that occurred at a rally, regardless of the rally’s purpose, would be appropriate to show your company does not condone illegal behavior. It would also help your company avoid negative attention to its brand and organization.

Should I fire an employee for any racial behavior exerted while off-the-clock?

This depends on the incident and the employee’s position within the company. Some infractions may simply be handled with an investigation and anti-discrimination training, with follow-up to show your seriousness in maintaining a bias-free workplace. Other incidents may lead to termination to protect the company’s brand and values. Contact your Human Resources Consultant for guidance with your specific situation.

How do I foster a racial-free workplace?

Be sure you are conducting regular anti-discrimination and implicit bias training with your managers and employees to ensure you do not have a hostile environment. Provide definitions, examples, and directions on how to report and address any incidents of harassment or discrimination. Take all complaints seriously with an immediate investigation and involve your Human Resources Consultant for guidance.

You may also consider taking the meaningful action outlined in this Harvard Business Review article of: acknowledge, affirm, and act. Becoming educated and refusing to ignore the issues at hand will make a big impact in your company’s stance against racism.

To learn more, please contact your certified HR expert. Not a current Stratus HR client? Book a free consultation and our team will contact you shortly.

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