Netflix | Staff to stage walkout as 'transphobic joke' row deepens - what HR needs to know

Staff to stage walkout as 'transphobic joke' row deepens - what HR needs to know

Netflix staff are planning a walkout following clashes with leadership, as the row deepens over a “transphobic” joke in one of its new comedy shows.

Trans staff and their allies at the streaming giant’s US offices are reportedly set to stage the industrial action on October 20, according to The Verge.

It follows controversy over Netflix’s new Dave Chappelle stand-up special The Closer, in which the comedian voices support for the ‘TERF’ movement (trans-exclusionary radical feminist).

In the wake of calls for the show to be taken down from the platform, CEO Ted Sarandos said they would not be doing so, writing in an internal memo: “...we work hard to support their creative freedom — even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful.”

Ahead of the planned walk-out, the staff have issued a list of demands for change from HR.

“We want the company to adopt measures in the areas of content investment, employee relations and safety, and harm reduction, all of which are necessary to avoid future instances of platforming transphobia and hate speech,” employees wrote in a press release, which has not yet been made public but has reportedly been seen by The Verge.

Notably, the protestors have not demanded that the Chappelle special be taken down, but have called on bosses to take steps to avoid similar controversies in future.

The Verge also reported that Netflix had sacked a leader of the trans employee resources group who was helping to organise the walkout. The company disputed these claims, instead saying the worker had been dismissed for leaking confidential information.

The action follows recent reports that three Netflix workers, one of whom identifies as trans, were suspended for showing up to a virtual quarterly business review – a meeting attended by the firm’s top 500 employees.

According to Variety, Terra Field – a senior software engineer who identifies as queer and trans, and two other employees who were not invited to the virtual gathering which took place last week, were suspended by the company after attending the meeting without permission.

They allegedly objected to Netflix’s decision to air the aforementioned comedy show. They have since been reinstated to their roles, The Verge said.

Raising issues in the workplace

While these events took place in the US, the topic of problems in the workplace and raising HR-related issues has come back into the spotlight.

If employees are having a problem at work, Acas’s website explained that it is usually better to informally raise it with your employer first – whether this is via a line manager or HR.

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Informal chats could range from a quiet word to more of a structured meeting. The site also explained that if employees feel they required more support, they could perhaps speak to mental health first aiders or fair treatment ambassadors.

However, if the issue can’t be resolved informally, staff can raise a formal grievance. Acas explained that if this doesn’t resolve the issue then the staff member may be able to make a claim at an employment tribunal.

How HR can manage activism

Another point raised in this incident is that of employee activism and HR’s role in managing it.

Employees may make a stand against their employer because they are disengaged or are simply responding to “a lack of open dialogue on change of behaviours or practices in organisations that could be interpreted as unfair, or incites inequality”, Andrea Smith, HR Director, Transformation UK&I at multinational beauty firm Coty, previously told HR Grapevine.

She said that to manage this within a workforce, HR teams should consider rolling out employee opinion surveys, which would allow staff to feel they are making a difference and contributing to policy changes, while also helping to mould a culture that is inclusive of everyone.

Smith explained: “A lack of accessible open dialogue in companies can quickly escalate to employees using external methods and platforms that can damage employer branding and reputation on corporate social responsibility.”

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