Surveys show that political talk in the office is pervasive. 26% of Americans say that they regularly discuss politics in the workplace, and 42% report that they’ve had a political disagreement with a co-worker. Surveys have also found that 45% of Democrats wouldn’t want their child to marry a Republican, and 35% of Republicans wouldn’t want their child to marry a Democrat. In light of these numbers, it is no surprise that political talk in the workplace can sometimes turn ugly. Both employers and employees should be prepared for some heated political discussions after this week’s election.
Although political disagreements can get intense, and sometimes personal, it is important to remember that “harassment,” as a legal concept, has a very precise meaning – it refers to protected classifications such as race, age, etc. However, although political disagreements may not necessarily rise to the level of harassment, employers should still promote a cordial environment, and employees should still be respectful when they talk with co-workers with different views. Additionally, some jurisdictions, such as Washington, D.C., have laws that specifically prohibit discrimination based on political affiliation and participation in political activities. Furthermore, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) protects workers who discuss workplace conditions, which could potentially be the topic of political discussion. For these reasons, an outright ban on political discussions could potentially violate the NLRB or D.C. law.
By adopting the following guidelines, employers can keep political discussions civil and avoid potential claims for harassment and discrimination.
- Employers should clearly explain to co-workers the difference between “sharing opinions” and harassment.
- Employers should set an example by welcoming alternative views and making it clear that no one will be retaliated against if they express their beliefs
- Employers should avoid playing controversial political programs the televisions in the office.
- If an employer bans visual displays in the office, such as campaign buttons, bumper stickers and posters, they must be sure that the ban is viewpoint neutral and applied consistently for all employees.
If you have any questions about how to manage political discussions at work, or any area of employment law, contact Thatcher Law Firm at 301-441-1400. www.ThatcherLaw.com. Email me at [email protected]. Follow us on: