I Have Management Questions For A Management Lawyer.

Please note: Sending us an email will not make you a client of our Firm. Please do not send us confidential information or sensitive materials through this form.

Articles

How to Address the Israel-Hamas Conflict

Client Alert

How to Address the Israel-Hamas Conflict with Your Employees 

 

This past month has brought much pain to the Israeli and Palestinian communities. Ever since the brutal invasion into Southern Israel on October 7th, Israel and Hamas-led militants have waged war in the Gaza Strip.  Casualties have been very high, and emotions might be even higher! No matter which side of the conflict you find yourself, or even if you are completely neutral, this conflict can creep or storm into your business!

In the past few weeks, we have been asked by several corporate clients how to best deal with varying employment-related issues revolving around the conflict. To assist our clients in traversing this challenging topic, we have written this Client Alert providing our thoughts.  Many of the takeaways below are not only specific to the current crisis but can be used any time an issue divides the country, or at least your workplace (e.g., Black Lives Matter and the upcoming Presidential race). Please feel free to share the following with your managers.

 

Takeaways for Managers and Supervisors

Among their many duties, managers are responsible for creating a safe, supportive, and understanding environment. Finding appropriate ways to discuss (or not discuss) the Israel-Hamas war is part of this obligation. Addressing this topic effectively with your employees (and possibly customers) requires sensitivity and empathy. Also, remember,  it can be hard to know where anyone stands on such issues, therefore make no assumptions! 

The following are some key issues you need to consider when confronting this issue. Please note that your response to such conversations is fact sensitive. The ideas below are general guidelines. If the conduct or words at issue were particularly more or less significant, your response may very well need to be modified. 

 

Often an employee will claim he or she has a First Amendment Right to free speech and they can voice their political views in the workplace without repercussion.  This is simply not true.  The First Amendment only protects speech from government censorship.  With a few exceptions, it applies only to federal, state, and local government agencies and entities.  It does not extend to private businesses and organizations.  

What does that mean in this context?  It means you can prohibit your employees from speaking out on this issue at work; but is this wise? We highly recommend taking a few preliminary steps before disciplining anyone.

  • First, decide if you want to restrict such charged conversations at all times while employees are at the work site, or do you just want to restrict it during “work” time.  Either approach is acceptable, as long as they are properly explained.
  • If you are only concerned about “work” time, then you will need to explain to your team that because of the sensitive nature of the topic you do not want to risk upsetting others while working. When people become upset at work, they can lose focus on both quality and more importantly safety; alternatively
  • If you don’t want the topic discussed at all at work, you will need to explain to your team that because of the sensitive nature of the topic you do not want to risk upsetting others at any time while on Company property. Explain that such upsetting conversation often spills over into work time and to avoid that risk, you have chosen to ask everyone to leave this discussion outside of the workplace.

Whichever option you choose, stress to employees that everyone has a right to their own opinion but they don’t have a right to force others to listen to it so that is why you are limiting when/where this topic can be discussed.

If you allow this topic to be discussed at work:

  • Tell your employees to be aware that if the conversation is upsetting others, it must stop.
  • An employee who is upset by someone else’s actions on this topic (whether a fellow employee or someone else), the employee cannot use that as an excuse for conduct or language that is otherwise a violation of company policy. Two wrongs don’t make a right but rather can make two employees unemployed.
  • Instruct employees not to argue with anyone on this topic. Inform them that if someone’s opinion upsets you, please ask them not to discuss it with you, and if they persist, get your supervisor involved. If a customer is involved, tell them you would rather not discuss the topic and if they insist, get a supervisor involved.

 

We suggest you respect your employees’ desire to discuss this topic away from work. If they do not bring the matter to work, that should be acceptable to you; provided the activities taken outside of work don’t become public and impediments to your operations (e.g., anti-Semitic/Palestinian TikTok posts). 

Yes, but before issuing any discipline, evaluate your decision carefully. 

After setting expectations for the team (see 1. above), we suggest the next step be counseling to the individual(s) involved, followed by a verbal warning. Only issue further discipline for repeated offenses or extremely upsetting conduct.  As you can imagine, this issue could be a tinderbox for your restaurant and if handled improperly it could have significant repercussions.

While verbal warnings are usually followed by written warnings, that may not be appropriate here. If very hostile comments are made, skipping a step in the progressive process may be appropriate.  Before taking any action beyond the initial written warning we suggest you contact your Human Resources Department or legal counsel if you have not already done so.

 

Uniformly enforce dress code so employees can’t wear provocative slogans to work. If it is worn only while coming to or from work, ask the employee to wear something else next time. If the employee refuses, treat it like a subsequent incident of hostile talk occurring at work. 

Advise employees to not discuss the war with customers even if the customer starts the conversation. Instruct your employees to say something like, ‘I appreciate that everyone has an opinion on this topic but to avoid causing possible hard feelings or offense, I would really rather not discuss this. I hope you understand.’  Remember, we do not want to alienate anyone. If this approach does not alleviate the problem, notify a manager to deal with the customer.

When dealing with upset customers regarding this topic, the key is to remain calm and empathetic. Remember, keeping a cool head is essential. Listen actively to the customers’ concerns and acknowledge their feelings. Respectfully assure them that we believe everyone has a right to their own opinion but to maintain a safe work environment, we ask everyone to avoid these conversations at work. 

In conclusion:

Remember, employees must follow all other employment policies while addressing this issue; using racist terms is a policy violation even if describing someone who the employee considers truly evil.

As a manager, one of your primary goals is to maintain a harmonious work environment. During any delicate situation, including discussions about the Israel-Hamas war, focus on unity and understanding. Reiterate the importance of treating all individuals with respect and sensitivity.

We encourage employers to discuss this matter with competent employment law counsel as soon as it becomes an issue, so you can make sure it is handled correctly. 

Brody and Associates regularly advises its clients on all types of labor-management issues, including union and non-union-related matters.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.