Dear Evil Skippy: Can Bumper Stickers Be Harassment?
One of my employees complained about another employee’s bumper sticker because of its religious nature. My first impression was that people’s bumper stickers are their personal business, but the guy does park his car in the company’s lot. I don’t think the saying is anything bad — it just says, “In case of Rapture, this car will be empty.” The complaining employee says she should not be subjected to religious viewpoints as part of her job. She says the bumper sticker is harassment because it suggests that people who do not share the other employee’s religious beliefs are not going to heaven. She says that if we do not prohibit such bumper stickers on the lot, she will file a religious harassment claim. Am I being too quick to reject her claim? What would you say to the complaining employee?
I would tell the complaining employee to go ahead and file a complaint if that’s what she wants to do, but she has to shut up at work.
Then I’d tell her that no one has seen the other employee for a few hours and you’re starting to wonder . . . Could it possibly be?? Look a little scared when you say it.
– Evil Skippy
Do not under any circumstances attempt to start a Rapture Hoax, at least not at work.
In addition, I would probably reject the employee’s claim. Bumper stickers are people’s personal business. Unless a bumper sticker on a parked car in the company’s lot was somehow directed at a particular person – targeting that person – I don’t think an employer should get involved with bumper stickers on parked cars.
I would not, however, allow the display of a bumper sticker with this same message in the workplace itself.
That’s not why. It’s because I think most people know a bumper sticker on a car is personal and not the workplace. It just takes a moment to walk by the car and it’s easy to ignore. You have not even started work yet. Posting a similar message on the bulletin board or in a cubicle would give it a greater presence. I can understand why an employee would not want to see the message constantly during the work day. It becomes part of the work environment.
As for the complaining employee, I would ask her if anything is going on other than the bumper sticker. For all you know, the bumper sticker’s owner might also be saying inappropriate things or doing something else. If it turns out there is no problem other than the bumper sticker, I’d tell her that she is welcome to file a complaint but you do not believe a bumper sticker that is on a car in the outside parking lot constitutes harassment under company policy. Of course, I’d first run this by my manager and human resources.
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