Political conversations at work are a recipe for disaster

Political conversations at work are a recipe for disaster

Political violence, political protests, disputed voting results – there has rarely been a more controversial political climate in the U.S. than what has taken place over the past several months. So, the possibility for political conversations in the workplace have never been more palpable.

There is no upside to employees discussing politics at work. Everyone has a political opinion and people can become very emotional about their beliefs. As the saying goes at our family holiday dinners, there will be no discussions on politics or religion. The same should apply to the workplace.

With today’s intense polarization, attitudes toward those who have different beliefs can be quite raucous. In an office setting, talking about these matters can be a recipe for disaster.

Discussing politics is not allowed at the offices of GroupOne Background Screening. Such conversations are almost always disruptive. A professional office should be a neutral space where everyone works together in harmony. Talking politics will never achieve such goals.

If employees begin discussing political viewpoints, it could result in a hostile environment in which employees hold grudges. Teamwork and productivity will take a nosedive. How can you set boundaries for what’s appropriate to talk about at work?

It should be noted that our country’s First Amendment right to free speech isn’t protected in most private companies. The First Amendment only protects us against government retribution for speaking our mind. It does not say anything about what private employers can regulate on the job. In fact, political speech and affiliation are not federally protected.

It’s always important to discuss with your legal counsel, but private employers have the discretion to limit political expression on work premises and during work hours. An exception is the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which prohibits employers from banning workers from discussing the terms of their employment including salary, paid leave, promotions and union activity.

Here’s a few tips for controlling the potential hostility associated with talking politics at work.

1. Establish a policy
Set expectations for employees about limiting political speech in the workplace by having a written policy explaining what is not permissible. This policy should be documented in your employee handbook, with transparent rules accessible to everyone.

What you can ban:
• Conversations between employees on work premises about politics;
• Campaigning on work premises;
• Sending emails of a political nature on company computers;
• Wearing political attire to work;
• Decorating one’s office or cubicle with political messages.

You want to be clear that you’re not discriminating or retaliating against any single person based on their personal political affiliation and engagement in lawful activity outside work.

2. Consistently apply rules
Companies must always be consistent in limiting behaviors in the workplace. You cannot pick and choose the behaviors you permit, or the employees who can get away with engaging in these activities.

3. Monitor workplace discussions
Stop any conversations that can negatively impact the working environment, customer service or your team’s performance. In addition to the hostility that political discussions can create, there are also legal concerns. Employees discussing a political candidate’s position on race, religion or gender can trigger discrimination complaints.

Managers should set a good example by adhering to no-politics rules while in the workplace. Always avoid jokes about controversial topics and avoid discussing politics with subordinates, even if you share the same beliefs. If you hear a political conversation in progress, politely yet firmly remind your employees that they’re off task and that these discussions belong outside the workplace.

4. Periodically remind everyone of the rules
Reminders of no-politics rules are important, especially as elections approach or certain events with the potential to inflame emotions have taken place. Use group meetings as opportunities to remind employees which discussions are off limits and emphasize practicing mutual respect and civility.

In Conclusion
Discussing politics at work is never a good idea. If you’re a private employer, you have the power to take control of the situation and regulate what is discussed in the workplace. You also have an obligation to provide a comfortable space for all employees and protect your company from harassment and discrimination complaints. During these stormy political months, it’s a policy worth reviewing.

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