Pull Up To the Bumper!

We have all seem them. “World Class Swimmer”. “Warning, I Have an Attitude and I Know How To Use It”. “Live, Love, Laugh”. Bumper stickers are everywhere; on the roads, in parking lots and in wacky pictures on the internet. Bumper stickers are a way to express your feelings on all sorts of topics. Perhaps you have one (or too many) on your car.

While bumper stickers can be fun (and funny), they can cause some rather emotional responses in people. For example, when you see a bumper sticker for a political candidate you support you might have a positive feeling toward the driver of the car – a feeling of camaraderie, of association. The opposite is also all too often true. I once had an employee who told me they had to deflate the car tires of another employee because their car had a bumper sticker for a candidate that did not support union activity (this was during a strike at a facility I managed early in my career.) It sounded pretty extreme to me, too. And just last week, there is an alleged hate crime that has erupted due to a bumper sticker that refers to illegal immigrants (http://www.wisn.com/r/28101137/detail.html). Free speech governs much of bumper sticker verbiage, but when do these stickers cross the line?

As an HR person, I have firsthand knowledge that things that happen outside the workplace can effect what happens inside and bumper stickers are just an example of this. While a bumper sticker that says “I Love Horses” may seem innocuous there are some stickers that could be inflammatory; mainly the political and religious leaning bumper stickers. Now I am not advocating people refrain from exhibiting their right to free speech but I am suggesting that they need to be aware of how this exhibition could bias the way they are perceived. In the workplace, this problem can be exacerbated because the people who drive the cars that display these subjective bumper stickers work side by side with those who are offended. Imagine how this seemingly insignificant issue can influence interactions in the workplace and cause employee relations headaches for HR and management.

As some businesses have required tattoos, piercings and other personal choices to be hidden and/or removed, we might see the bumper sticker eradicated from some workplace parking areas due to liability. Imagine having to right and enforce that corporate policy! I can almost see the headlines now.

Personal expression is a hallmark of our country and is one of our most valued freedoms. Taking a piece of paper and sticking it on your car bumper is yet another example of this right. I have no bumper stickers on my car and probably never will. They are just not my style. Bumper stickers have made me laugh, think and sometime bite my lip. And sometimes they have made me get the urge to “honk”, when I see a bumper sticker that says, “Honk, If You Love Cheese!”

Don’t forget to CELEBRATE!



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