As the daily news continues to show protests and calls for justice in response to the death of George Floyd and others at the hands of police officers, there is, unsurprisingly, a desire from employees to hear from their employers regarding the ongoing violence and racial unrest in our communities and across the country. Many employers recognized the gravity of the racial unrest by celebrating, for the first time, Juneteenth on June 19, 2020, a holiday celebrating the emancipation of slaves. But is that enough? How do employers respond?

As a practical matter, employers must be aware of the application of Constitutional free speech protections, employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act and state laws that may apply to expressive employee conduct, as detailed in our previous post.

Beyond that, employers can choose the level of their response and engagement, or choose to do nothing at all—there is no right or wrong answer or a “one size fits all” solution. The most common reaction from employers is to acknowledge the unrest and issue a statement of support. Many employers have also chosen to make a public announcement expressing solidarity and support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Though these responses are important, they fail to accomplish the more ambitious goal of many employers, which is to articulate and implement a strategy for lasting and real change within their own workplace and beyond. This action requires substantial reflection, consideration, time and effort.

So, for employers looking to do more, where do they start?

  • Leadership: Good leaders serve as good models. Leaders can lead by example and provide a safe workplace where all employees feel respected and included. As it pertains to the current environment, leaders can be open about their own lack of knowledge and share their growth and experiences with their workforce.
  • Anti-Discrimination Policies: Employers can review their policies regarding equal employment opportunity and workplace discrimination. Though most employers articulate such policies as a matter of course, it is important to reinforce these policies and remind employees of what is expected of them and to reassure employees who may be feeling vulnerable at this time.
  • Diversity Initiatives: Employers can focus on building diversity within their ranks by ensuring that recruitment, hiring, retention and advancement are truly objective and based on merit. Employers can also consider implementing a version of the National Football League’s recently-revised “Rooney Rule,” wherein at least two non-white candidates must be considered for open head coaching positions, and one non-white candidate must be considered for coordinator, senior football operations or general manager positions. Forming a diversity committee or task force is another way to ensure that minority members of your workforce are being heard and understood by management.
  • Awareness: Employers can educate their employees about prejudice and racism in its various forms; this can consist of formal training or open forums in which employees can communicate with one another and, importantly, with their co-workers of color. Employers can also make educational materials available for employees.
  • Community Involvement: Employers can publicly support the movement in the form of donations or activism. Doing so can create a sense of pride among your workforce, and it can also help in attracting future hires that share the principles of your workplace.

Our lawyers are happy to answer questions regarding the development and implementation of your workplace response and assist with the implementation of diversity and inclusion efforts tailored to your specific business and workforce.