With the 2016 Presidential Election right around the corner, it is likely you have heard politics being discussed in the workplace. However, you may wonder if it is proper or even allowed to discuss politics at work. The experts at Optimum Employer Solutions, an HR outsourcing company, have tackled this age-old question from both the employee and employer point-of-view:
Things to Think About as an Employee
You may find that some of your fellow employees, and even yourself, enjoy discussing politics in the workplace. However, doing so could cause issues, such as creating a divisive and hostile work environment. Discussing politics in the workplace could also change other employees’ opinions of you, and not necessarily for the better.
Because discussing politics in the workplace can cause issues, private-sector employers could impose broad limits on their employees’ political activities and discussions during working hours. Though this is legal, it is important to know your rights as a worker and citizen. Federal law protects an employee’s right to discuss labor issues, such as wages and working conditions, with other employees in the workplace. In some cases, this protection can extend to politics. For example, if “Candidate A” supports higher wages, it is possible that employees could end up talking about it at work and be protected. However, these protections do not apply if labor issues are not part of the discussion.
Your employer may also step in if he or she finds an employee harassing another employee about politics. If you find that your coworker is annoying you and will not stop attempting to discuss politics in the workplace, simply say, “I would rather not discuss politics at work.” If the coworker persists, ask your manager to step in. Rather than getting in a heated debate, the manager should simply explain that such talk is distracting from work and not permitted.
If you do find yourself wanting to be involved in politics in the workplace, it is important to know your rights to ensure you are not being illegally penalized. First, attempt to conduct your political activity outside of work unless it is specifically linked to employment issues. You should also avoid issues that are in direct conflict with your employer’s company-specific business priorities. If you do these things, but still suspect that you are being illegally penalized for your political views, you can speak to the National Labor Relations Board. You can also speak with the office of the state attorney general if you believe that your legal rights are being violated.
Things to Think About as an Employer
As an employer, it is important that you not only minimize disruptions in the workplace, but don’t take any risks that could result in a lawsuit. Here are some instances when you may want to minimize or eliminate political discussions in the workplace:
- It Wastes Time – While restricting all non-work-related conversation in the workplace can have a detrimental effect on morale, it is important to note if employees are spending a good amount of time debating politics. As an employer, you will have control over what employees may or may not do on company property and during work time. If you suspect too much time is being wasted on political discussions, warn your employees.
- It Causes Division – Political discussions can become heated. If you find that discriminatory language is being used or some employees feel uncomfortable in the work environment, it is your duty to address the issue. For example, if an employee is inappropriately discussing a candidate’s sex, age, race, religion, ethnicity or other protected traits, you should take immediate action as your company could be held liable for fostering a hostile work environment if this type of conduct is not stopped.
- It Fails to Represent Your Company – When an employee is representing your company, he or she should not be offering a personal view on politics. This type of action could offend customers or clients, giving them the belief that your company’s beliefs are the same as the employee’s.
While these are some important instances when you should stop political discussions in the workplace, there are also some instances where you may want to support it. There can be benefits to embracing some political expression in the workplace, such as:
- Giving your employees access to voting information and time off to vote. However, do not coerce your employees into voting for a particular candidate.
- Helping your employees feel empowered to make an impact on political issues that are important to them.
- Providing your employees with training on holding intelligent and respectful conversations on potentially heated topics, as well as accepting views different from their own.
Discussing politics in the workplace is a complex issue for employers and their employees. If you have questions about policies and laws on discussing politics in the workplace, be sure to speak with the HR experts at Optimum Employer Solutions.