Employee Relations: Electing to Talk Politics at Work has Serious Implications

Original post workforce.com

As the political races unfold in 2016, just about everyone seems willing to share their opinions on candidates, parties and issues — whether they’re asked to or not.

For many of the nation’s workers, this can lead to uncomfortable situations or outright arguments while on the job. Responding with a personal opinion might seem like second nature, but it might also be a risky move careerwise.

Employers generally have the right to limit employees’ political commentary during work time, and many of them choose to do so given the often-heated nature of the subject. Workers should always use common sense when deciding whether to discuss political issues at work, but there are some situations in which employees should definitely steer clear of such talk, such as:

When the business owner or boss is vocal about their own beliefs. It’s a concept that might be shocking to many Americans, but, in many states, private employers may fire workers for their political beliefs.

Under the at-will employment doctrine, in the absence of a contract, employers can terminate employment at any time and for any reason not prohibited by law.

Every state except Montana subscribes to the at-will doctrine.

Under this principle, organizations don’t need “just cause” to fire someone. If local or state law doesn’t prohibit it, private employers generally may terminate an individual because of his or her political beliefs.

Many misinterpret the First Amendment and believe that it applies in all cases related to freedom of speech. The First Amendment only applies to government censorship of speech. As such, it restricts public employers from engaging in this practice.

Most private employers won’t typically terminate employees for their political beliefs. The bad publicity from such actions will typically outweigh any perceived benefits.

Even in states and locations without laws protecting employees’ political beliefs, employers will have to tread a fine line. Some states, like Wisconsin, prohibit employers from taking action on employees’ legal activities, such as running for office or voting. If the discussions are union-related, they might also be protected.

Yet, employees should still be cautious. A business owner or manager who is strongly invested in their political beliefs could discipline or terminate others with opposing viewpoints.

When it wastes time. Many employers recognize that restricting all nonwork-related conversations can have a detrimental effect on morale. But if employees are spending large amounts of time debating the pros and cons of a particular political candidate or issue when they should be working, an employer is going to take notice and possibly take action. Employers generally have control over what employees may and may not do on company property and on work time.

When discriminatory language is involved. Employers have a duty to prevent and address discrimination in the workplace.

If employees are holding inappropriate discussions about a candidate’s sex, age, race, religion, ethnicity or other protected traits, the employer will likely want to take action. A business may be held liable for fostering a hostile work environment if it does not halt such conduct.

Because of the legal ramifications, most employers take discrimination in the workplace very seriously and will respond accordingly. This could include discipline and even termination.

When representing the company. If an employee is passing themself off as a company representative, or even sporting company logos (on a shirt, hat, etc.) while giving a personal interview on the subject of politics, an employer likely has the right to act. Such actions could give customers and others the impression that the employee’s beliefs are those of the company.

Think before speaking. When faced with a workplace situation involving heavy political posturing, it can be hard to consider the effects of statements prior to making them in front of co-workers.

But taking a moment to think about the consequences of certain political discussions before engaging in them might be the best way for employees to safeguard their job.

Employees should consider the career risks of bringing politics to work. The best course of action might be to leave political discussion at the door.

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