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The One Policy Policy Manual

The One Policy Policy Manual

I know it’s bad for me but I just can’t help myself. The minute I wake up, I press the little glowing button on the remote control that’s buried under my pillow (like how movie cops and spies keep their guns). And then I catch up on the news, while I scratch a sleepy cat chin or two. This morning I discovered that a Wisconsin school custodian was fired because of a bumper sticker.

Here’s what the various news reports say:  Mary Taylor, a school custodian working for a private contractor, drives her personal car to work. On her car is a pro-Governor Walker bumper sticker (you might have heard something about a union-backed movement to recall Walker and his lieutenant governor – energized in very large part by the teachers’ union).  This bumper sticker offends the sensibilities of two teachers, who confer with the supervisor of custodians.  The school demands that Taylor remove her bumper sticker – even though the parking lot is swimming with anti-Walker bumper stickers that go unmolested. One thing leads to another and the private contractor fires Mary Taylor.

For what, do you suppose?  Insubordination? Offending the sensibilities of the client, which is a public school district – where public funding presupposes the right to freedom of speech?

Naturally and quite rightly the outside world is going to regard this as a freedom of speech issue. But I also see this as an HR issue.  Not knowing (or having verified) all the particulars, I won’t name the company. But for some reason this private enterprise saw fit to terminate an employee because of an unpopular bumper sticker.

Just as with what happened at Enron, the question crosses my mind: What the heck was HR thinking?

Being an HR groupie myself, I’m always inclined to take HR’s side in these matters.  So I’m thinking (hoping) that this particular company doesn’t even have an HR department.

The next question is a much larger one:  How many different ways will HR be used as a political football?

When you think of all social and economic “remedies” coming down from Washington and the state levels, which ones don’t impact the way HR does business?  Laws are laws, and naturally there’s no getting around those that will influence your day-to-day work. But that long run-up to law involves a tremendous amount of social activism and pressure to do the politically expedient thing – even if it’s at the cost of doing the right thing.

This is where HR needs to stand its own ground.  So here’s my suggestion for the one policy policy manual:

“We will never allow the people side of our business to be used by political or social special interest groups to the detriment of the best interests of our enterprise and our employees.”

Update: Mary has been reinstated by her employer and reassigned to another district.  But what damage has been done to her loyalty and trust in the company that’s supposed to have her back?  And, I can’t help but assume that this other district isn’t as close to her home as the Whitewater district is.  According to Gas Buddy, gas in those parts is about $3.95 a gallon today.  So what is this reassignment going to do to a custodian’s transportation budget?

Aren’t the unions supposed to be about fair treatment of employees? Just wondering.

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Martha I. Finney is the author of The Truth About Getting the Best From People, and a consultant specializing in employee engagement. For a free consultation on how you can build a vacation-friendly workplace culture, email Martha at

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One Comment

  1. Hi Martha,

    Anything that’s spelled “politics” is a bad thing because it has opposing sides “win-Lose”. Yet, “political savvy” is acknowleged to be desired competency for performance, more so as one moves up the ladder.

    In Mary’s case, that would have meant Mary failing to use her politically savvyness to understand on which side her boss would stand on that matter and failing to use whatever political manouevers to win over her boss.

    I like your policy which should also act as the TEAM motto.


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