In 1964 congress passed the Civil Rights Act. Three years later came the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), followed by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This litany of legislation proves that politicians can actually get things done when they put their minds to it, all recent evidence to the contrary.
As an engineering manager for Texas Instruments in the mid-80s, I was careful about discrimination. Then I got a memo explaining that sexual harassment would not be tolerated. I was terrified until I realized the memo went out to all employees. Whew, that was a relief. I wish the memo proves that executives care about their employees, but I think it was more about avoiding litigation. And my relief was all about keeping my job.
Regardless of how or why any of this stuff happens, it's exactly the kind of thing that distinguishes our nation. We've made great strides toward putting an end to job discrimination and sexual harassment. But lately, something seems to have gone terribly wrong.
For the last ten years or so, I think we've lost our way. And I mean really lost, like without GPS navigation or Google Maps lost. Like ten guys and nobody wants to ask for directions lost. Like Britney Spears lost. Like the fourth season of Lost with no writers lost.
These days, treating fellow employees like anything but mindless drones with the anatomy of Ken and Barbie Dolls can be considered a hostile work environment. Telling someone he or she looks nice in an outfit or telling an anecdote or joke that someone may find offensive can get you sued or fired.
Even talking to someone who may have ratted you out to human resources - the constitutional right to face your accuser - is considered retaliatory behavior. That's taboo too.
Yes, I know this stuff has its roots in the right place, just like all the legislation. I know it sounded like a good idea at the time. And I certainly don't mean to imply that we should be telling grossly offensive jokes and propositioning employees. I just think the pendulum has swung too far and it's still swinging.
For one thing, this stuff is very subjective. If 20 people think something's cool but one person finds it offensive, what do you do? Fire the offender for inadvertently brushing up against someone's thin skin? And who gets to make that determination? The corporate executives afraid of being sued, of course.
And why is it unacceptable to offend one or two people, but acceptable to dictate to hundreds or thousands how they should behave for 40 or 50 hours a week? Sure, it's uncomfortable for the one or two, but it's also stressful for everyone else to behave unnaturally and worry about everything they say and how they say it.
It's a slippery slope, and it gets more and more slippery all the time. What started as creating equality and ending harassment in the workplace has turned into political correctness gone wild.
The result is that everyone's afraid to say or do anything for fear of offending someone and losing his or her job. Where does it all end? Are we doomed to dumbing down our entire society to the least common denominator lest we offend a few thin-skinned whiners?
You're all out there in the workplace every day. Is it getting too PC out there, is it business as usual, or is this more of a good thing, like workplace equality? Am I in the minority or preaching to the choir?