As sustained protests sparked by the death of George Floyd continue in over 140 cities across the States, companies are experiencing a defining moment as company values of community, equity, and inclusion are being put to the test. As a result of the uptick in social media commentary over protestors’ actions, dozens of employers have taken swift action to terminate employees for inflammatory, racist, or violent online content.
It begs the question: how can companies support their employees who may be rattled, distraught, or directly affected by both physical and digital uprisings? Below is a summary of the various industries that have seen public firings for inflammatory online content directly related to the George Floyd protests and additional ways that companies can provide support during these unprecedented times.
Who’s getting fired:
At least four law enforcement officers have been fired for racist Facebook posts. Two commented directly on the death of George Floyd while two more shared photos suggesting violence against protestors. A firefighter EMT has also been fired for racist content.
Several employees in the public sector including two unrelated bus drivers, a county clerk, and a prosecutor were fired for racist, inflammatory Facebook comments related to the protests. Meanwhile a Missouri lawmaker, while not fired, made headlines by declaring that “looters need to be shot.” Twitter has since removed the offending tweet.
Several firings also occurred in the entertainment industries: a TV producer involved in a Law and Order: SVU spinoff was fired for inflammatory comments about protesters, and a member of the Austin Symphony Orchestra was also fired for similarly racist posts. Famed Glee actress Lea Michele was dropped as a HelloFresh ambassador after stories of her bullying black co-stars surfaced on Twitter. Yet another incident involved a reality TV star catching heat for encouraging looters to be shot, despite her own shoplifting conviction several years back.
A sports broadcaster and USC football booster were fired for an “all lives matter” tweet and tweets that encouraged shooting protestors, respectively. A high-profile soccer player parted ways with the LA Galaxy for racist tweets posted by his wife.
In the education field, a high school wrestling coach was fired for a racist post accompanied by a photo of himself pinned to the ground with someone’s knee on his neck. A social studies teacher was fired for alleged membership of a violent and racist Facebook group. A tenured professor is being investigated for “black privilege” comments. Lastly, a private university rescinded admission to an incoming lacrosse player for posting a racist Snapchat about the death of George Floyd.
What can businesses do now to facilitate more constructive conversations in the workplace?
The combination of both the coronavirus pandemic and widespread protests/riots have created an unprecedented and extraordinary environment for social media turbulence that is bleeding into the workplace. Social media platforms function as a townsquare of sorts, where a large amount of public emotion takes place--especially now when many folks are still stuck indoors. However, stress does not absolve a person from knowingly posting offensive comments in a public forum. The new reality most companies are living in is that consumers are forcing them to choose how their values play out in real life and they are demanding receipts. Employees are stressed and upon seeing coworkers inflamed posts, online life surfaces everyday work life issues and may exacerbate them.
Under these extraordinary circumstances, taking time to invest in the mental health of employees could be the difference between having to fire someone and not. As tensions may be running high and stratified across racial fault lines, it may benefit a company’s workplace culture to make space for both stressed-out employees and difficult conversations. Below are a few suggestions for immediate and eventual action to meet employees where they are as they move through an unprecedented zeitgeist.
- Provide resources to educate employees--be that making past sensitivity training webinars available or distributing reading lists or educational resources.
- Host anti-racist educational discussions with a D&I manager or outside specialist specifically for white employees to ask difficult questions and educate themselves. Create space for white employees to process uncomfortable and complex feelings without asking the labor of employees of color.
- Allot mental health days--or allocate more of them in light of present circumstances--so that employees know that they can take the day off without repercussions.
- Check in with employees of color. What do they need? How can the company better support them? Do their needs suggest a need for systemic change? How might their needs benefit the company as a whole?
We at Social Intel hope that those working towards a better, more just future are safe and cared for. For those with the means and interest in donating as a form of taking action today or everyday, here is a list of 115 Ways to Donate in Support of Black Lives and Communities of Color.