My title may be facetious, but reminding people to avoid being “offensive” on the internet is tantamount to asking them to stay off the internet. Nevertheless, United Airlines has reminded employees that racially-charged or offensive speech online is not acceptable. The devil is in the details.
United Airlines “Offensive” Speech Memo
In a memo sent to employees entitled “Carrying ourselves with dignity and respect,” United reminds employees that they must avoid offensive speech online.
Dignity and respect are not optional
We work to promote a safe and inclusive environment. It’s valuable to bring together people from different backgrounds who express different views, but we need to pay attention to our words and how they may impact our diverse population of employees and customers. It’s not okay to say (or post) things that are offensive or racially charged. This applies when using social media, when posting comments on Flying Together, and when simply having conversations. And where social media is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether your post is public or within a closed group – nothing on the internet is truly private or anonymous. Use common sense and good judgment, and if you have any doubt about whether or not what you’re saying or posting may be offensive, you probably want to avoid it.
This isn’t a First Amendment issue, by the way. We’re not talking about the government regulating speech. Nevertheless, talk about a moving target. What you and I view as “offensive” speech may be view quite differently than others, and vice-versa.
Employees are asked to use “common sense” and “good judgment” when posting online. If there are any doubts over offensiveness, avoid it.
Hasn’t the last week shown us that sometimes we need to speak truth, even when it hurts? Calling those who breached the Capitol on January 6th “insurrectionists” instead of “protestors” causes offensive in some quarters. But it needs to be said. Calling those who burn and loot “thugs” is bound to incur pushback, but that’s exactly what they are.
Thus, in a hyperpartisan world whatever you say on any issue of the day is bound to cause offensive. Heck, sometimes even my coffee posts cause offense.
And thus I view this memo not so much as a chilling attack on free speech, but as an unreasonable and arbitrary moving target that gives employees no “safe harbor” beyond staying off the internet. This problem is hardly unique to United Airlines. Indeed, it is a common problem in corporate America.
The memo later says:
It’s never okay to criticize others on the basis of race, gender, age or any other protected category. This includes conduct within the workplace, as well as outside of the workplace and on social media. We take this very seriously. Employees who violate this policy may be subject to discipline up to and including termination.
This is clearer, but still problematic. Stick to the Capitol insurrection for a moment. Say someone posts a defense of the insurrection on the basis of “our heritage is being taken from us.” Is an employee not breaking the rules by calling out that racially-motivated bigotry?
Sometimes we have to operate within the nuances of a complicated world. I understand that it is difficult to clearly lay out every possible instance of right and wrong in any context, let alone in an employee memo. But I do not think the answer to society’s woes is to retreat from dialogue. And that dialogue will indeed cause offense. But it is only when we wrestle with that which is uncomfortable that we will reach a new level of understanding and eventually the sort of mutual respect and tranquility that all decent people strive for.
Well the truth is Obama’s inauguration had massive security because he was first black president. And now joe bidens inauguration is under a security lockdown. In both cases far right violence is feared.
The white Republican males are terrorists. They can’t transfer power peacefully. We always are guarding against violence from far right whites. Now watch some idiot come and talk about BLM.
Trump is a Democrat. He is trying to guarantee permanent Democratic Party takeover. Jared, Ivanka, Mnuchin are all lifelong Democrats. Trump has long donated to Democrats. He was even registered as one before.
Trump’s tariffs against China is 100% Democrat, trying to protect workers. Republicans protect businesses so are historically against tariffs.
Trump is so clever. The term is Manchurian Candidate.
I heard this before and didn’t think it was true at first but it could be that it is his Democratic plot.
To all of the world and Matthew, I’m sorry that my love of credit cards and dislike of debit cards caused me to go off topic above. Deleting the above comment is ok with me if the goal is to keep the comments on topic.
I ‘ve been discriminatory, not racial discrimination, but responding because debit’s name is “debit”.
I’ll leave it. We will see what history says. It’s clear to me he hurt the GOP far more than he helped it.
Oh man, thats where all the QAnon nutters and Trumpettes are going to land down. Please dont give them ideas. @derek
I applaud United’s recommendations. Hate unfortunately spreads more easily than fairness and righteousness online and they’re simply reminding everyone that they’re an inclusive organization and won’t stand for bigotry or promoting lies or violence. Saying the Capitol protestors are thugs and insurrectionists, or even treasonous, would be OK as it’s the truth.
Anyone who perpetrated violence at the Capitol should be prosecuted. Why was it that Biden and Harris staffers were bailing out the thugs perpetrating violence during the BLM riots? “Anti-racism” is explicitly racist and BLM is a Marxist, anti-American movement that preys on liberal white guilt. Read some books!
Debit. Have you forgotten about Chaz and Portland, or Wisconsin? I guess they were all white Republican male terrorists disguised as peaceful, summer of love supporting protesters???
Nothing in your post has a remote connection to the truth. Oh and yes, many BLMers are radical agitators. (Happy now?)
I forgot about the time BLM stormed the center of our national government and law enforcement let them right in…
Oh wait that never happened…that was a good try with your false equivalency; I know that people with black skin scare you.
100% different. Not agreeing with ANY violence or looting etc. But looting, rioting, kidnapping plots, chanting things like ” Hang Mike Pence, while storming our capital ARMED, because your president didn’t win the election, feels a bit different than protesting excessive force by police directed usually at black and brown American citizens
Nothing in anything Debit says on this or any blog has a remote connection to the truth. @Ken Adams: don’t waist your time or energy responding to Debit, his goal on this blog is to get a reaction out of us. Don’t give him this satisfaction. Trust me, it was sent to deaf ears, and only egged him on.
The white apologists will always deflect to hide the real problem.
I’m in HR, and I’d be interested to know more. I agree that at the surface, what you described is unacceptable, and I agree with your sentiment. I believe that so much that I’m left with two possible conclusions. Either there is some tangible reason that can be supported to explain this note to employees, a reason that we don’t know, and it probably left many people offended. Or United is trying to control their free will and force their opinions on them. The latter is such a destructive, reprehensible thing to do, it is so incredibly inappropriate that I simply can’t picture a note like this being sent for that reason by any business that has Claire Marie Klint developed brains. I’m going to assume that it’s explanation number one, and any comment below this assumes that.
This note needed to be sent. Engaging in online debate is not the answer if it offends someone, it’s plain and simple. Not in a professional environment. It’s completely different for you, Matthew, to write something like what you are suggesting on Live and Let’s Fly because you don’t work with the people that you might potentially offend. You’re not responsible for ruining their professional environment. THey can simply choose not to read your blog in the future and not walk around our world on eggshells. The same is not true for a United Airlines employee doing this on social media. Whatever it was that was said was so offensive that something needed to be said. Condemning the riot is OK. Bringing sensitive topics into the discussion is not. It’s that simple.
Hi Alan. I appreciate your comment. I would also give United the benefit of the doubt and certainly appreciate the difference between my blog/platform and that of an employee of United.
Nevertheless, this seems problematic to me:
Who determines what is a sensitive topic?
People like Alan Brint are an example of why corporate human resources departments are tools of leftist oppression. Can you imagine the gall of an employer trying to police your private behavior? Would Alan Brint be so quick to condemn private speech if it were advocating trans acceptance or some other woke shibboleth? The woke overlords decide, Matthew. Anything that offends them is “literal violence” and brands the speaker a “literal Nazi.”
Matthew, with all due respect, I think you’re somewhat (but not totally!) off the mark. I will certainly concede that this missive from the airline towards their employees is far too loosely and carelessly worded. And I also think that you’re onto something given the way that it was phrased. However, I would like to posit (hope?) that, as it was worded, the directive from United does not convey what was actually meant. For example, they should have written that one should not “criticize others on the basis of *that person’s* race, gender, age or any other protected category”. Respectfully criticizing someone’s attitudes on race is not the same as criticizing them because of their race. It’s not even close. Perhaps it would have been better and more effective for United employees to have reminded their employees to always keep their language respectful and courteous instead.
I rankle a bit at the idea that we can’t possibly express ourselves — even about controversial topics — in a way that is not offensive, which is why I am posting. We have to have this dialogue, as you correctly point out. We have to have it a lot more often, in fact. However, that doesn’t mean that one has to wallow in the gutter and resort to name-calling. The problem is that it’s a trap that is too easy for many of us to fall into … particularly on the Internet where you can’t actually see the people with whom we interact. (And I am not trying to claim innocence!) So, perhaps what we really need is to get back to having respect for people with whom we disagree (and agree!). Mere disagreement does not convey the right to disrespect.
So, those are my two cents. I hope I didn’t p!ss anyone off. 😉
Oh, and one of the main reasons that I keep my social media footprint as small as possible is so that I can safely ignore warnings like this when my employers send them my way. Can’t be careless on Twitter if you don’t have a Twitter account! 🙂
I don’t disagree at all. Appreciate your insight!
“Silence is violence.” Therefore it must follow that silence also has the power to offend. Just wait till corporate America demands this level of subservience from their employees.
Political correctness has gone overboard. One should be allowed to say what they feel within reason that is sensible and not inflammatory. I for one do not like BLM, even though I am a so-called person of color…East Indian, African and White. BLM has inflamed racism, which has given the far-right, proud boys, etc. an excuse to unite. What the hell does BLM think would have happened? It made an opening for the proud boys etc. to walk into!
BLM is no better than White supremacists.
Wow if Clive Rayman were alive 150 years ago…
“Abolitionists have inflamed racism which has given the KK*K an excuse to unite…”
Blame Fredrick Douglass for white supremacy.
Yeah. Sure you are a POC. How dare BLM demand that black people not be randomly killed by police during routine arrests.
That you believe this lie makes you little better than a QAnon follower. Blacks are not being hunted down indiscriminately in the streets by police. Look at the Washington Post’s statistics on fatal police shootings. Maybe black folx should stop resisting arrest quite so vehemently. It doesn’t end well, whether a suspect is black or white. And if a BIPOC doesn’t parrot your leftist propaganda, he can’t be BIPOC? That sounds a lot like our dear President-Elect Biden, who will be part of a Harris-Biden administration. Racist! Sad!
BLM is a motte-and-bailey insurrectionist movement that preys on liberal white guilt while promoting an anti-capitalist, anti-American program. Its foundation is rooted in lies about the deaths of people like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. BLM’s primary concern is not about improving policing or protecting black lives; it wants to remake America as a Marxist, racist utopia, and it uses the deaths of black men as a wedge issue. Black fols should be blaming the socialist policies of Democrats for destroying their communities, not the miasma of “systemic racism.”
All you need to know is that United Airlines allows its employees to wear BLM pins.
How can I possibly be disciplined or terminated while engaging in a 1st Amendment protected activity away from work and explicitly zNOT representing whatever company employs me??
BTW there is no such thing as actionable “ hate speech”. All this nonsense is super Orwellian.
Why do you have such a vendetta against United? Do you ever post anything positive about them or are you always looking to find fault?
@Annoyed Reader – You might be new to the site, but of 8,106 posts on the site, more than 3,000 of them have mentioned United for which the author is a loyal frequent flyer and million miler. Given that you perceive him to have a negative view of the airline, that probably reflects his ability to be objective and fair about the carrier.
Vendetta against United? Try love affair.
Employees were mandated to watch a 2-hr course on harassment of all sorts… sexual, verbal, bullying, etc… which also includes any type of social media harassment, which is not tolerated. This includes the more popular Twitter, FB and Instagram. Thus the title of this article, should perhaps have included the words “social media”, which narrows it down to specific internet interaction…as opposed to “stay off the internet”, which is clearly misleading.
I’m not an attorney but I do read up on some things. It is my understanding that my state of California as well as a handful of other states (such as Colorado and New York) have laws making it unlawful for employers to take adverse action against employees for “lawful off duty conduct.” So if UA was to discipline or terminate an employee for making a comment deemed offensive online and to be safe, not on a UA website or forum and the employee did so on his day off and away from the job that employee would have recourse if disciplined or terminated by UA.
If a UA employee is disciplined or fired for posting a controversial comment while during a time outside working hours and at a place away from the workplace I think that employee ought to consult a competent attorney and file a wrongful termination lawsuit and demand reinstatement as well as back pay and damages.
Matt, since you are an attorney would you care to comment about how correct my understanding is?