By Linda Bisca, HR Services Partner

In today’s world, it seems you cannot go anywhere without hearing people talking about politics, including in the workplace.

Surveys show that since the 2016 general election:
  • 87% of employees read political social media posts at work
  • 80% said they have discussed politics with professional contact or colleagues
  • Nearly 50% said they had seen a political conversation turn into an argument at work

While it is natural for employees to discuss current events in the workplace, how far should the political discussions go? What, if any, political conversation in the workplace is acceptable or appropriate? What are an employer’s obligations to keep the environment inclusive and civil when politics are discussed?

By partnering with a PEO like Resourcing Edge, companies get access to HR experts who have experience advising companies about employee relations topics like this.

Should Employees be allowed to talk about politics in the workplace?

The work environment should be a place of mutual respect where employees feel valued by their employer and peers. Employees should also know that the organization expects that conversations and activities not related to work will not detract from what should be the primary focus – work.

Do employees have a First Amendment constitutional right to talk “politics” at work?  Private employers generally are not regulated by the First Amendment because it applies to government taking no action to abridge freedom of speech.

However, companies need to tread lightly due to Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The NLRA protects employees’ rights to act collectively with and for the benefit of their coworkers for purposes of mutual aid and protection, including to improve the terms and conditions of their employment. Therefore, conversations in the workplace that are political, such as supporting or promoting a candidate who has increasing minimum wage on their agenda, would likely be protected under the NLRA.

The Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on race, religion, gender and other characteristics. Conversations in the workplace regarding a political candidate’s view on gay marriage may offend others in the workplace if others feel they are being harassed against their own protected class. Employers should remind employees the company does not tolerate harassment or discrimination in the workplace.

Laws in some states provide protections for political activities. For example, several states have “free speech,” “political activity,” or “off-duty conduct” laws. Employers must become familiar with relevant laws in the states in which they operate to avoid pitfalls presented by them.

To help you understand if your state has certain provisions regarding “free speech”, you can contact a PEO (Professional Employee Organization) such as Resourcing Edge for HR expertise and professional guidance.

How can Employers help maintain civil political conversations?

While employers might be able to carefully construct policies regulating political speech at work that is not legally protected, consider the impact having such restrictions might have on workplace morale. Instead of applying these types of rules, employers may be able to use existing workplace guidelines to foster a positive working environment.

Employees should have the freedom to have such discussions provided the conversations are transparent between company leaders and employees. Don’t force political views of the executive team on the remainder of the company either.

Employers also need to communicate to employees that all discussions should maintain a level of respect for all. Leaders should create an inclusive environment where everyone feels respected during any type of discussion.

If conversations become too heated or individuals feel targeted or threatened in any way, existing policies addressing workplace violence, anti-discrimination, or general respect toward coworkers may apply. Using policies employees already understand to be part of the workplace emphasizes that employers are not simply trying to stop employees from expressing their opinions or discussing matters they believe in, but rather are promoting a generally safe and productive work environment for all employees.

Employers should review their policies to ensure not only your company is compliant, but also to prevent issues in the workplace. By partnering with a PEO, such as Resourcing Edge, companies can depend on HR expertise to design policies that meet their business needs and are compliant with existing law.

If you would like to learn more about the Resourcing Edge’s Professional Employer Service and our extensive HR expertise, contact Resourcing Edge.

HR Services Partner Linda Bisca has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience in the areas of compliance, employee relations, and special projects.

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