Continued from yesterday’s article.
Does that mean that your employer is violating your free speech rights if they tell you shut up and get to work?
I think the answer is no.
But, it’s not an unmitigated, unrestricted no.
Even if businesses will not be held legally responsible for actions based on the suppression of free speech, I think there’s a case to be made that American businesses with American workers should try to live up to the values that support a free society.
While they have a right to fire people for reasons that if used by the government would constitute a free speech violation, it seems that there may be value in showing some restraint.
It may be foolish for the business to grant total free speech rights to its workers if such an action would hinder the shared goal of making a lot of money. In all likelihood, granting such rights without any rules probably would hinder that goal.
But, that doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t try to allow as much free speech as possible. There’s an easy place to draw the line: punishment should occur when someone’s exercise of free speech hinders the shared goal, and the punishment is given out on a content-neutral basis.
The disruption caused by the speech, rather than the speech itself is targeted. If there was a way to express the same ideas in a more constructive, or less disruptive way, it would be allowed. All people would be disciplined equally, regardless of the specifics of what they said.
Also, companies should strive to build an environment that allows for free expression. This is called “tolerance.” Tolerance allows for ideas that are in the minority or might be controversial to be heard and evaluated on their own merits. This isn’t easy, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which it doesn’t make the company stronger.
But, building a tolerant environment means that exercises of free speech will be less disruptive. It may sound like building a tolerant environment would be a lot of work, but it doesn’t seem that bad when compared to dealing with constant complaints that the intolerant lodge. It will also help everyone relax, as they won’t worry that telling the truth will get them into trouble and will make them feel like they can be more genuine at work.
Again, this isn’t “anything goes.” We’re trying to put guidelines in place that allow for the best possible outcomes but also to have consistent and easy-to-apply rules in place for when problems arise.
Part of the reason that we see problems between companies and free speech is that companies have confused company values and company politics.
Company values are focused inward. They relate to how coworkers treat each other, how the company treats customers and the kind of people that workers want to be and become. These ideas can certainly come across as cheesy, but that’s in part because values are rarely given as much attention as politics, which people take more seriously today.
I think companies should strive to be as apolitical as possible. Why?
A lot of scandals happen in places where politics are strong, which suggests that strong politics has the potential to kill off values.
See Hollywood and Weinstein.
Or Hollywood and Cosby.
Or Hollywood and Affleck.
Or Hollywood and Whedon.
See what I’m throwing down here?
You can’t walk a block in Hollywood without tripping over a half-dozen political movements, and yet it would be incredibly hard to make the case that Hollywood has put its own house in order.
Remember, politics are about controlling other people. We may not like to say that, but it’s true.
Values are about controlling yourself. Values are about becoming the best you can be.
And, I think we’re seeing in the Kaepernick situation is values and politics coming into conflict.
I genuinely believe that if someone took the same actions as Kaepernick, but for a different cause that violated the team owners’ political sensibilities, it would have been shut down more quickly. Because it aligned with their politics, it was allowed to continue, despite being bad for his team and bad for the league.
It’s bad for his team because his protest was both frustrating and distracting.
If you were on his team but disagreed with his stance, you would likely end up frustrated. Even if you agreed, you may still find what he’s doing distracting.
People who are frustrated or distracted or both perform worse and the team suffers as a result. Teams that play poorly lose and make less money.
The protest violates the common goal of an NFL team: win, so that we make more money.
Likewise, many viewers found Kaepernick’s actions distasteful, so they stopped watching games.
This hurts the league as a whole. Fewer viewers means less advertising revenue.
This violates the common goal of the NFL: create something that people want to watch so that everyone makes more money.
The protests have spread to other players and even though Kaepernick willingly walked away, the whole league continues to suffer.
Now, had he done all of this on his own time, I don’t think the NFL would have any grounds to have done anything to stop him. That goes double for political demonstrations on his own time that the league disagrees with.
If Kaepernick wants to protest on his own time, it would be wrong for the League to punish him in any way.
But, being at work changes things.
Being a professional quarterback is fun, or so I’m told.
But it’s also a job, with employers and coworkers and customers.
And it strikes me as supremely weird that a person would insist on exercising their freedom of speech to the detriment of those they work with. To my mind, any business, not just the NFL, would be right to remove that person from the company. There’s a shared goal, and if a person can’t be trusted to work towards it, or intentionally or unintentionally undermines it, they shouldn’t be around anymore.
There’s a time and a place for everything.
That time may not be while you’re at work, something Kaepernick never seemed to get.