Workplace Babble: Did She Just Say That?
Political correctness has influenced workplace conversations in many ways. Concern for political correctness has rendered some topics taboo while turning other issues into a jumble of jargon. Nonetheless, PC standards aim to create a friendlier and more productive workplace.
Taming the Tongue – Why Tact is Important
No matter what the old adage about sticks and stones may mean, insensitive words can be hurtful. They can create conflict among workers, increasing stress and reducing productivity. Insensitive language in the workplace can also expose the company to lawsuits from employees who may feel unfairly targeted.
What not to Say
Typically, businesses have a code of conduct that define corporate standards of behavior. Dress codes, personal decorum and office interactions are discussed at length. However, speech cannot be protected because it will be unconstitutional.
That said, certain issues are clearly addressed when it comes to free speech.
• Racist language – Any derogatory statement that suggests that employees’ ethnicity or nationality affects their suitability for the job cannot be allowed. Under federal statutes, race cannot be used as a qualifying factor for jobs, housing and access to schools and public services.
• Gender-related language – Discrimination based on a person’s gender or sexual orientation cannot be tolerated in the workplace. Statements that links an employee’s job performance to gender-centric standards is not acceptable and employers need to tread softly around these issues.
• Age-related language – Any suggestions that employees’ performance can somehow be linked to age are questionable at best. Some physically demanding jobs may be better suited to younger workers. In these cases, workers should be qualified based on physical ability, avoiding any references to age.
• Sexism – Sexism in any form is not permissible in the workplace. Sexism could be in the guise of name-calling, catcalls and careless compliments based on an employee’s appearance or behavior.
Workplace bullying has become a hot-button issue in recent years with workers becoming more open about their experiences at work. The popularity of social media has made it easier to spread information about negative experiences. Workplace bullying may be difficult to define as different companies have different standards.
Surveys by the Workplace Bullying Institute indicate that verbal aggression, intimidation and threats and unwarranted criticisms are all forms of bullying as reported by workers.
A Proactive Approach
For the most part, corporate culture defines employees’ interaction and workplace harmony. However, reasonable guidelines should be in place to prevent harassment and any claims of harassment. These policies should be written and vetted by the legal department. Every employee should be made aware of the rules and uniform and consistent enforcement must be practiced. The company should have a workable process of dealing with complaints fairly and confidentially.
While everyone is guaranteed freedom of expression, common sense dictates that self-restraint should be practiced whether one is constrained by rules or not.
Austin, Texas has been Peter Wendt’s writing headquarters for a number of years now. For readers who wish to learn more about this subject, he recommends they check out http://www.austinemploymentlawyer.com/.