In recent days, the press has been quite focused on the case of Shirley Sherrod. Ms. Sherrod was asked to resign from her job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture after video surfaced of a speech she gave to a local chapter of the NAACP. The clip that initially surfaced seemed to portray Ms. Sherrod, who is black, as making racially charged statements about a white farmer who had sought her help many years ago. As it turns out, however, the entire video clip is a story of how her racial views evolved over the years. A good summary of the Sherrod situation can be found here.
Resting its conclusion on the initial video clip, her employer pressed her to resign. There appears to have been little or no opportunity for Ms. Sherrod to tell her side of the story. Cries of "unfairness" erupted after the full video of the speech became public.
Beyond the politics of this situation, there is an important lesson for all employers. Adverse employment actions should never occur without knowing all of the facts of the situation. Here, it appears that Ms. Sherrod didn’t get an opportunity to explain and/or the full video of her speech wasn’t reviewed. In the private sector, it is often the employer’s failure to interview all of those with knowledge or give the employee an opportunity to defend herself that leads to indefensible actions and descriptions of employment actions as "unfair."
In turn, these cries of "unfairness" can easily translate into calls for unionization. Indeed, arbitrary or unjust employer conduct, and the resulting reality or even perception of unfairness that can arise, is a strong rallying cry for those who would unionize your workforce. You need look no further than this recent AFL-CIO blog post to see how the issue of unfairness can be used in union organizing.
So, while you watch the fallout from the Sherrod story, remember that unjust terminations can spark interest in union organizing in any workplace. Employers are well-advised to consider the impact of their termination procedures in this context.