Stirring the political pot

Employees protesting and expressing political views involves a balance between freedom of expression and what's appropriate in the workplace
By Laura Williams
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 11/22/2017

Employers often have certain standards of conduct they expect employees to follow. But in today’s often divisive political climate, more and more people are voicing their views when they don’t agree with something – the national anthem protests by professional football players in the U.S. are an example. How should employers handle situations where employees express their political views and values when it may or may not be appropriate? HR lawyer Laura Williams this hot-button issue and how it relates to workplaces away from the football field.

When NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the pre-game playing of the U.S. national anthem in 2016 to protest what he described as racial injustice towards African Americans, his actions caused an immediate stir. But few could predict the eventual furor that would sweep across the league, pit the NFL in a Twitter war with U.S. President Donald Trump and prompt dozens of other players to follow Kaepernick’s lead.

Eventually, many NFL owners began cracking down on what they deemed to be disrespectful and unpatriotic behaviour — and a potential detriment to their carefully-crafted brand — just as players continued to defy their entreaties to stand during the anthem. Because the field is the players’ workplace, owners felt a right to police the actions of their players in that milieu.