When Politics and Policies Collide: What HR Can Learn from Goodyear Tires
Can we talk about Goodyear tires for a minute?
In an August 19, 2020 Twitter post, Trump urged people not to buy tires from the 122 -year-old Ohio-based company because they allegedly put a "ban on MAGA hats."
Man, they REALLY stepped in it? Didn’t they? I mean to have the POTUS boycott your business over a poorly-executed slide presentation?
But what on earth does this have to do with HR? Why do I feel compelled to comment on this loaded issue?
This is the kind of misstep that keeps us HR people anxious, paranoid, and looking like the “bad guys” of an organization.
And it has everything to do with well-executed HR.
About that slide...
In the US, it's illegal to discriminate based on age, race, color, national origin, veteran status, disability and now LGBTQ identity (due to a recent US Supreme Court ruling).
You cannot create a hostile work environment for people in these areas. It’s absolutely forbidden by law. I’ve spent my career ensuring this “crap” doesn’t come into the workplace.
Goodyear, like any decent company, presumably has a zero-tolerance policy against this discrimination. In a diversity training session, it would be normal to present a set of slides which outline what is acceptable, and unacceptable, in the workplace.
People are harassed on the job for all kinds of reasons: being overweight, political affiliation, having poor fashion sense, being unattractive, packing tuna sandwiches in their lunches and smelling up the break room, etc.
It is wrong to bully people for any reason. But it’s not illegal.
Supporting MAGA and Blue Lives Matter at work is not protected by the law in a way that being a person of color or LGBTQ is.
So about that slide, given the context, doesn’t it make a tiny bit of sense?
The Real Mistake
I can picture it: You ask the intern or a green HR Pro to put together a slide on the company EEO policy. It will be a stretch assignment. And honestly, how can you mess it up?
All you need to do is give examples of things that are offensive and not offensive to make it less abstract.
And you end up offending half of the company, not to mention a good portion of the US population.
This company’s real mistake was this: Just because something is legal, it doesn’t make it right.
Approach is 9/10ths of the law. This slide deeply offended Republicans and families of police.
Let's go back to the person eating tuna in the lunchroom (I am purposely picking something that isn’t emotionally charged, not to downplay the issue) – it’s a company’s legal right to forbid eating tuna sandwiches at work. And honestly, it's rude to stink up the whole break room. But how would putting it on a slide that tuna sandwiches are forbidden in front of the entire company make them feel?
If everyone in the room knows who eats the tuna sandwiches, shouldn't there be a better approach?
We Must Use More than Law as a Litmus Test for Right and Wrong
I get a little pain in my stomach when I hear a leader say they want an HR Pro to help them navigate the law. I'd much rather hear them say:
I want to do the right thing and build an inclusive culture for my organization. I want people to get along.
Whew! OK, let’s get to work!
I believe in the hearts and minds of people and if the group at Goodyear had gone through a bit more training to understand why certain things are allowed and certain things aren't -- they wouldn't be in this PR nightmare.
This is why HR people are an anxious breed. When we beg you to use interview templates, threaten you to put in employee feedback into the performance management system, or ask you to please tweak your language to be more inclusive; it comes from a deep paranoia of things flying out of control.
If you’ve been in the field long enough, you’ve been a witness in court to a company’s action that you may or may not have supported, sat in meetings where the CEO decided to fork over thousands of dollars to settle a lawsuit, or you’ve seen your words twisted by an angry employee to the media.
Doing what’s legal and right isn’t always a clear path. It can be very narrow. But it’s imperative that you get it right for the health of your organization and the morale of your team.