October 23, 2012

Modern Rules for Political Discussions at Work

So, did you hear what happened in the last political debate?  Can you believe that anyone would actually vote for that …?  I mean, any thinking person would have to see that situation differently.  Those non-thinking people are what’s wrong in the world.  It’s time for the good people of this land to stand up…

This is tough talk, especially if it is coming from a Supervisor, Executive or Owner.  A leader’s pointed political statements can be very damaging in the workplace.  While everyone in America has a right to have and endorse their own political viewpoints, managers have the responsibility to act with the Company’s interests at the forefront. 

A review of applicable law reveals a wide variety of positions, making discretion an even wiser course of action.  Federal law does not (as of the time this blog was written) make political affiliation a protected class.  Generally speaking, non-governmental employers can place limits on employee activities during work time.  These limits can include political activities.  Some states offer protections for private employee political activities.  Most relevant state-level laws generally focus on off-clock activities; however, some trigger employer liability for actions that influence, direct or control employee political activities (CA, NY, CO and other states, for example). 

It is possible for managers to express a political opinion in a way that makes the Companypolitics at work vulnerable to protected class-based discrimination charges.  Imagine a manager expressing doubt about the leadership abilities or commitment of candidates who immigrated from another country.  National origin is a protected class under Federal law; count on that one coming back in the form of a charge.

Remember our Management 101 blog about unintended communication?  The same principles are in play when it comes to political convictions.  It would be reasonable for an employee to assume that disagreeing with the boss can lead to a hard time at work.  That could ultimately drive lower morale, less creativity, lower productivity and turnover.   

Politics at work can be tricky business.  Assuming that your organization’s primary objective is not getting someone elected, our advice is simple; mind your business.  Have and be passionate about your political convictions.  At the same time, be passionate about the success of your Company and its employees.  Create an environment in which you get everyone’s best work every day, even if they support the "wrong party"Now, that's a real HR solution!

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