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Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: The break room at my job has a TV with the news on. It’s OK when my co-workers change it from CNN to NBC, but one day when I changed it to Fox News, I got written up. Is that allowed? – Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: While it may seem unfair, that action is allowed. Every organization has the right to establish its own unique workplace culture, which can include creating policies that specify what content is allowed – or disallowed – on workplace TV screens.

For example, some employers forbid employees from changing channels without receiving permission first. Others prohibit changing the channel, period. In any case, the employer has the right to enact the policy, up to and including disciplining employees for doing what you did.  

The real problem here, however, has nothing to do with the channel on TV. It’s the fact that a manager chose to reprimand you, rather than start a civil conversation with you.

American society is deeply divided today, and these divisions increasingly are putting co-workers at odds in ways that should concern U.S. companies.   

Nearly half of American employees have personally experienced political disagreements at work, and more than a third, like you, say their workplace is not inclusive of different political persuasions.

Political differences are another dimension of diversity. Companies need to adapt to the new reality that employees talk politics and you can’t stop them. So, rather than react to crises or ignore the problem, they should be proactive by setting up guardrails that can guide discussions (if they need to occur) in civil, constructive directions. Otherwise, employers will pay the price in turnover costs when employees leave for a more welcoming workplace. (It is, after all, the best market for job seekers in five decades.) 

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Here’s how you might play your part in promoting civility. Go to the individual who disciplined you and make time to talk with him or her. Now, the idea here isn’t to revoke the write-up. Instead, reveal your motives so as to undo whatever misunderstandings might exist between you. Make it clear that you weren’t intending to provoke others or be divisive – you changed the channel in good faith.

Remember, it’s not about settling debates – that’ll never happen. It’s about learning to disagree without being disagreeable and getting back to work together afterward.

Question: I got fired today. Three days ago, I brought my employer a note from my doctor that said I needed three days off of work for a staph infection. I went back to work today, and they told me I had been fired for job abandonment. Can they do that? – Anonymous

The short answer is, yes, an employer can fire an employee in a situation like yours. However, that decision ultimately depends on the specifics of your situation – and the policies of your employer.

I don’t know all of the facts of your dismissal, but one thing I wonder is whether your case was simply a very bad breakdown in communication.

For example, who received your note? Did they confirm receipt? Did you notify anyone else at your organization? Can any co-workers attest to your story?

These questions count, because if you didn’t show up, didn’t respond to efforts to reach you, and your employer was unaware of where you were, they may have genuinely believed you were never coming back.

On the other hand, if you delivered the note, did the right things, and your co-workers have your back, then there may have been a mistake made on your employer’s side.

Of course, whether they can legitimately fire you on that basis depends on their job abandonment policy. Some employers are more strict when it comes to work absences (even excused ones), while others may be more flexible. For instance, many companies have policies stating that, if an employee does not call in or show up to work for three consecutive shifts, it amounts to job abandonment.

Generally, employers want to ensure employees are present and productive at work. So, when they don’t show up, it is common for employers to call, text, and email employees. Some will even send a letter to the employee’s home if they are unsuccessful in reaching that employee

My advice is to check, double-check, and triple-check your employer’s policies and procedures, and then check with HR. In doing so, you may find that you did, in fact, violate the job abandonment policy. But, then again, it could turn out to be a very bad case of miscommunication that could end in you getting your job back.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/careers/2019/11/12/employers-should-set-guidelines-political-diversity-workplace/2561773001/

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