Politics – it’s the hot topic around the water cooler these days. However, discussions regarding politics can mean big trouble in the workplace if not managed effectively and even-handedly. As a general rule, employers have the right to regulate and control employee work time, and that right extends to controlling political activities that interfere with work performance. But do so with extreme care!
Focus on the Legitimate Business Need
When seeking to limit your employee’s free time activities in the workplace for any reason, focus on demonstrating a legitimate business need for interfering, communicate the relevant rules and policies in company postings, handbooks, newsletters, and websites, and warn employees about penalties for violations.
Show Respect for All Viewpoints
Expect to find a wide range of perspectives, opinions, and political viewpoints. Be respectful of others’ opinions to maintain productive working relationships and insist that others do the same. Remind your people, and yourself, that no matter where the conversation takes you, you are at work. If the conversation becomes too heated, excuse yourself by saying you have a deadline to meet, a meeting to attend, or a phone call to return, or simply declare the subject closed.
Considering Simply Banning Political Discussion?
In view of the potential strife, you may simply want to ban all political discussion at work. Generally employers do not choose this route simply because enforcing such a ban is difficult, if not impossible. Nevertheless, if talking politics interferes with work or becomes disruptive, employers probably will need to ban work-time political discussions. For example, if an employee engages other employees in a debate and tries to persuade them to vote for a particular candidate, this would likely interfere with work. Some employees will be relieved by the policy, because they do not want to be forced into political discussions or fear that if they don’t agree, it will jeopardize their workplace relationship, or see heated political discussion as harassment – in these circumstances it may be best to institute a ban on all political discussion.
© Karen Ensley and Brian Benitez, Ensley Benitez Law, PC, 2021. All rights reserved. This article is provided for educational reasons exclusively and is not meant to be construed as legal advice. Ensley Benitez Law, PC, will represent you only after being retained and that agreement is made in writing.