Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, told its employees not to engage in open discussion of abortion, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. In an internal memo obtained by the New York Times, Meta said that “discussing abortion openly at work has a heightened risk of creating a hostile work environment.”
Messages mentioning abortion were reportedly removed from the company’s internal communication platform. Instead of using community message boards, employees were directed to support each other in one-on-one conversations or in small groups of “like-minded colleagues.”
Company leaders considering similar limitations need to tread lightly. You need to understand when employee speech is protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and when it isn’t. It’s prudent to review your policies and response plans.
Protected activity: If employees are engaged in general conversation about abortion and the Supreme Court decision, those conversations are likely not “protected concerted activity” under the NLRA. However, if employees are discussing the company’s response (or lack thereof), policies, or benefits related to abortion, that is likely protected speech. The NLRA protects employees’ rights to discuss their conditions of employment at work, outside of work, and on social media.
Social media: In a related issue, employers may want to review their social media policies on hate speech and offensive statements. Employers usually may terminate workers for posting racist comments, harassment, or discriminatory speech on social media. To that end, if you become aware of posts that express religious hostility, you need to respond in a consistent way.
Employee support: Employers should remember that diversity of opinion has value in the workplace. Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that momentous events outside the workplace will impact employees. Consider providing support for employees who need to process their feelings. You may wish to provide coaching or set aside a space and time for conversation in a safe, judgment-free zone with guidelines around respectful interactions.