2016 is an election year, and this election has turned out to be one of the most contentious in recent memory. Since Election Day is tomorrow, let’s spend some time to talk about the impact of political happenings on the workplace. Of course, you would expect to hear political conversations at the workplace from time to time, and as long as they remain civil and don’t interfere with the productivity of the team, they should be tolerated. Here are some ways to approach this sensitive topic.
Employers Can Benefit From Allowing Employees To Express Themselves
Attempts on the part of management to stifle political discussion may be ineffective and could also be a violation of free speech and could alienate their workers. As such, it is best to allow political discussion so long that discussion is not loud, combative or disruptive to the work environment. While some employers might argue that political discussion has no place in the work environment, attempting to stop it may make the management seem overly draconian and authoritarian.
Never Take Sides Irrespective Of Your Personal Beliefs
Regardless of whether you are Republican, Democrat or Independent, as an employer or manager, you should not use your authority to stifle the political voice of those beneath you that have opposing views. Put another way, either you will stop all forms of political discussion in the workplace, or you will tolerate it so long as both sides remain civil.
To take a middle ground, where you tolerate political discussion but only when it favors your views, will only create ill will and frustration among workers and colleagues that can ultimately lead to serious problems later on.
Be Mindful of Laws Regarding Political Expression
The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides free speech to citizens, but states may differ in how political expression is regulated within the workplace. It is therefore essential for employers to be aware of the laws within their particular state to make sure they are in compliance at all times. Section 7 within the National Labor Relations Act offers employees the right to discuss the terms of employment as well as the ability to unionize.
Although this law also protects certain political views, it does not specifically give workers the right to political conversations that aren’t directly related to the work they perform, either during the hours they work or whenever they are on their employer’s property.
Ultimately The Decision To Allow Political Discussion Is A Judgment Call
There are pros and cons to prohibiting or allowing political conversations in the workplace. Some employers discourage it completely because such discussions tend to become heated and disruptive. Others tolerate it to a certain extent. Employers must ultimately make a decision regarding this issue because it is something that they will encounter at some point.
No matter what, employers and management should make it clear that anyone that is not working or disrupting others that are due to their political conversations will be disciplined accordingly. Making this policy clear to employees and enforcing it is the best way to let everyone know where you stand, regardless of whether you personally support their political views or not.