My Take: The Goodyear Controversy is an HR Issue

No matter which side of the political aisle you’re on, you’ve probably heard about the dust-up between President Trump and Goodyear. Basically, the president asked people to avoid Goodyear products because Goodyear told employees MAGA attire was unacceptable in the workplace.

Here’s what happened in a little more detail:

A Goodyear employee alerted his local Kansas media that, during a diversity training course, a slide labeled “Zero Tolerance” outlined the company’s view on appropriate and inappropriate phrases or slogans on workplace apparel.

According to the employee, “Black Lives Matter” and “LGBTQ Pride” were acceptable. But “Blue Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter,” MAGA attire and all other politically affiliated slogans or materials were unacceptable.

Trump then called for a ban on Goodyear for its ban on MAGA. It should be noted that Goodyear said in a statement: “The visual in question was not created or distributed by Goodyear corporate, nor was it part of a diversity training class.”

Goodyear went on to clarify: “To be clear on our longstanding corporate policy, Goodyear has zero tolerance for any forms of harassment or discrimination. To enable a workplace environment free of those, we ask that associates refrain from workplace expressions in support of political campaigning for any candidate or political party, as well as similar forms of advocacy that fall outside the scope of racial justice and equity issues.”

While companies have fairly broad latitude to set dress code policies, the issue in play is whether a company, Goodyear in this case, can draw a clear line between what is a political expression and what is a demonstration of support for a worthy cause. 

If this was ever cut-and-dried in the past, it surely isn’t now. How do you define what’s political? How do you define what’s inappropriate for the workplace? What, exactly, are forms of advocacy that fall outside the scope of racial justice and equity issues? Race for the Cure? The Humane Society? Literacy programs?

And, if you have a policy that sits well with some, but not others, like the president and his supporters, what do you do?

I get it, the intent of the policy is to not offend anyone or stir up trouble among employees. And it was probably sufficient, back before our world turned upside down. But, today things have changed. Emotions are running high. And it’s not just about politics, it’s about everything. COVID, the economy, racial unrest, not being able to sit and have a meal in a restaurant, working at home, not socializing, kids not going back to school and parents left to wonder how it’s all going to work. We’ve got a lot to deal with, America. People are on edge. They don’t need to feel it at work, too.

While companies like Goodyear have the right to draw a distinction between political expression and support for social justice issues, as they see it, they can no longer do so without risking the wrath of cancel culture. 

Many companies will find it is easier to ban a broader range of expression to ensure a comfortable workplace. But, they may be sacrificing a little bit of their values in the process. This is undoubtedly a tough decision that every organization will need to make on its own. 

That means HR is in the middle of this. It’s probably time to dust off those old policies that were written years ago and update them for the times we’re living in today.

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