In Ferguson , Mo – A grand jury on Monday did not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of the unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown.
In just a few hours, the world’s largest silent ballet will form around water coolers as American workers tiptoe around the emotionally charged responses to the long-awaited verdict. Ferguson is no longer a town in Missouri; it is a looming elephant in the boardroom of every organization across the economic landscape of America. The Business Insider reports, President Obama encouraged those who might protest the verdict to do so peacefully. He also acknowledged there are real “problems” and a “deep distrust” that exists “between law enforcement and people of color” around the country.
“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to the broader challenges that we face across the nation,” Obama said. In the backdrop of a flaming police cruiser and looters rampaging in downtown Ferguson, the call for peaceful protests landed on ears that were still ringing with disbelief over the decision that there was insufficient evidence to bring the Officer Wilson to trial.
Now America must arise and return to the one gathering place that has no true boundaries, the workplace. Workers must either face one another and acknowledge the immense gravity of the situation as adults or ignore it and let it swell up like a well-shaken carbonated beverage. The real responsibility for assuring that the workplace remains safe and secure rests upon employers. Each employer must seriously consider the potential for an outpouring or in-storing of response and determine how best to deal with issues that may overflow into the work environment.
Organizational leaders throughout the country will today set the tone for the culture and climate their workplace will embody as this unfortunate saga spills into the streets of America. Is your workplace ready to address the deeply entrenched racial issues that lie at the heart of the unrest in the town of Ferguson and now the regions beyond?
How are your employees being coached to respond to customers, vendors and fellow employees? What is your corporate position on discussion of these sensitive issues on company time or property? When was the last time your policies and procedures regarding violence in the workplace were reviewed? Do you have a contengiency plan in place should work be interrupted due to social unrest? How will you address employees who are involved in protests and those who are arrested? Are your employees aware of their rights and responsibilities regarding these issues.
When the Ferguson, Missouri issues come to your workplace, be prepared.
12 Tips for Employers in the aftermath of Ferguson verdict
1. Leaders can allow for a moment of silence to acknowledge the impact of the situation without taking sides on the validity of the issues at hand
2. Work closely with management and corporate security to develop a plan in the event that unrest spills over into your workplace
3. Make provision for crisis counseling services for those who require personalized attention
4. Review and update you employee relations policies and procedures with legal council to assure they are current, relevant and defensible
5. Clarify organizational policies and procedures related to employee rights and responsibilities related to peaceful demonstrations and arrests
6. Be certain your employees know how to respond to media inquiries and how to escalate such contacts to the appropriate individuals
7. Make plain what your organization considers acceptable or unacceptable regarding discussion of the sensitive incident in the workplace
8. Reinforce organizational commitment to maintaining a safe and secure work environment
9. Reiterate organizational values and commitment to customers
10. Provide talking points for customer-facing employees to de-escalate and diffuse inappropriate conversations initiated by customers or vendors
11. Reassure employees that your organization remains committed to supporting their professional growth and career development at all times
12. Return the focus to collectively working together so that everyone can take care of their families and provide products and services that will continue to benefit the community
Be prepared. Regardless of where your company is located or the demographics of your workforce, the truth is that anything less than due diligence on this highly volatile issue may be a careless error that no employer can afford to risk.
Betty J. Jackson, SPHR is President and CEO of BJ Magnum and Associates, a Management Consulting Firm www.magnumlife.net