War and the American Workplace

Now that the U.S. is at war, how will war affect the workplace? For some, a conflict halfway around the world will have little or no impact on their day-to-day schedules, but others will notice some significant changes. Some workplaces have reportedly become more patriotic, with American flags, pins and pictures of loved ones serving in the military becoming more prominently displayed. (See Journal Gazette article). Many workplaces do not have policies preventing workers from displaying patriotic symbols at work, while others, placing an emphasis on appropriateness and professionalism, may forbid some displays, but not others. Other workplaces are dealing with the effects of anti-war protests, which have caused many protesting employees to miss work entirely, while others not participating in the protests cannot get to work on time. (See San Francisco Chronicle article). We can expect a decline in workplace productivity, as workers debate and discuss the war, surf the ‘Net looking for the latest news updates, and generally worry about our nation and our safety instead of focusing on work that may seem relatively inconsequential.

Things may get downright hostile in some workplaces: it’s reported that one employee, a strong supporter of the war, walked off the job when her boss, an avid anti-war activist, took over her computer to fax-blast information about an upcoming protest. (See Washington Post article). In some workplaces, the debate is healthy, and helps to calm employees’ fears, while in others, workers report feeling silenced, afraid to speak out, or having become a target for speaking out contrary to the opinions of coworkers. Business travel will be affected: 21 percent of companies surveyed have banned international travel, while 48 percent have adjusted their domestic travel policies. (See Business Travel Coalition survey results.) Security measures put in place after September 11 will be continued and in some cases strengthened: for example, America Online, Inc. has set up a telephone hotline for employees to report suspicious activity or seek help.

Just as September 11 affected the workplace both positively and negatively (positive: increased sense of community; negative: baseless suspicion and harassment of workers based on religion and national origin), so too will this war, regardless of its duration, affect the community we have at work. We should all do our part to minimize the negative effects of workplace dissent and heightened suspicion of others caused by the war and the threat it poses to foreign and domestic security, while using this time to confront the fear we all face by building stronger bonds with our coworkers and employers.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.