The continued demonstrations by players in the NFL have sparked numerous debates, including ones focused on protests in the workplace. While some people argue that such actions aren’t legally protected, others say that the athletes (i.e., employees) are well within their rights. So, let’s take a closer look at the situation and see what employers can learn from it.

As stated in this article, the U.S. Constitution gives the league the legal right to fire or suspend players who protest on the field during the performance of the Star Spangled Banner. That’s because the First Amendment, which allows for peaceful assembly, doesn’t restrict private employers from prohibiting or abridging the freedom of speech – only the government is restricted from doing so.

However, federal labor law protects any “concerted activities” that employees engage in to support each other in the workplace and address issues relevant to their jobs, even if a union isn’t involved. The demonstrations must be peaceful, of course, so actions such as damaging property are forbidden. Additionally, collective bargaining agreements can prohibit activities like striking.

Ultimately, it’s up to employers to decide how to address protests in the workplace – and there are many factors to consider. Do the demonstrations contradict company values, disrupt normal business operations, or hurt sales? Will putting an end to the protests damage employee morale? Answering these questions and more will help you determine what’s best for your organizational culture.

A good example comes from Comcast. According to USA Today, Comcast supported staff members who staged rallies earlier this year at company locations to protest an executive order ending immigration for people entering the United States from seven Middle-Eastern countries. While the organization didn’t formally endorse the demonstrations, it paid workers who took time off to attend. This aligns with the company’s values, as Comcast is committed to ensuring that all their employees feel safe in their jobs, including when traveling.

What are some other effective ways to address protests in the workplace? Join the discussion at conversations@jwt.com.

 

J. Walter Thompson INSIDE is a full-service recruitment advertising agency and employer branding consulting firm, creating pioneering ideas in strategic recruitment, human resource development and management, and more.