Whether you feel the pin and its message was religious, political or just patriotic (and as such, acceptable in the workplace) is a matter of interpretation. And it’s because of this sort of interpretation that employee policies exist.
“The issue is not whether or not we agree with the message on the button," says
Craig Fishel, a Home Depot spokesperson. "That's not our place to say, which is
exactly why we have a blanket policy, which is long-standing and
well-communicated to our associates, that only company-provided pins and badges
can be worn on our aprons."
While the employee’s lawyer is suing Home Depot for religious discrimination, the case probably won’t go very far. As Michael Masinter, a civil rights and employment law professor at NOVA Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, explains:
"Because it's a private business, not one that's owned and operated by the
government, it doesn't have to operate under the free speech provisions of the
He clarifies the matter of religious displays and expression, too, for those who feel Home Depot’s pin-banning action was a form of religious discrimination:
“But we're not talking about religious displays here," he said. "This sounds
more like a political message ... Wearing a button of that sort would not easily
be described as a traditional form of religious expression like wearing a cross
or wearing a yarmulke."
As a private business, Home Depot has a right to protect its image by not promoting different employee opinions via pins and badges - opinions that might offend customers who are as diverse as the employees serving them.
Some important details in this case: The employee was first asked to remove the pin. He refused. He was also offered a company-approved pin that said, “United We Stand,” but he declined.
It would appear that Home Depot did everything right, from an HR standpoint, in this situation. They based their actions on company policy, they confronted the employee first (and hopefully documented the exchange) and when all was said and done, the employee refused to cooperate with policy. Thus, the employee was fired.
What do you think? Do you agree with Home Depot’s actions? Please leave a comment - I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!