Politics in the Workplace

As we near Election Day, it is an opportunity for employers to encourage their employees to safely exercise their civic duty to vote, but there are other matters to consider this election season.

 

We have been exposed to quite a bit of emotional and hostile public political discourse. We need to be aware that heightened emotions and hostility may spill over into the workplace. Therefore, it is important to focus employee communications on voting and the election process itself.

 

There is tension created by various political views, but this year is particularly concerning for employers in our experience. An employee’s political statements can strain workplace culture and even result in workplace discrimination or harassment complaints.

Who has freedom of speech?

A common misconception is that employers cannot address political speech because of freedom of speech. However, freedom of speech is the prohibition against the government curtailing speech, not private companies or individuals.

 

Private employers can set expectations related to discourse at work and implement policies to define the boundaries and expectations about dialogue.

What can you do?

Corporations often ban political messages in the workplace because they can distract employees from their jobs.

 

Sometimes companies make policy changes, but the policies and any changes need to be very clear. We saw Goodyear Tires make headlines this summer because they amended their corporate policy concerning employee attire and advocacy.

 

Per Goodyear CEO Rich Kramer, “We have a longstanding corporate policy that asks associates to refrain from workplace expressions in support of any candidate or political party.”

 

In August, Kramer publicly announced a change that employees were now permitted to express support for law enforcement via their clothing.

What to wear?

We have been asked about implementing a dress code policy that prohibits all non-work-related logos, buttons, t-shirts. While this is an option, we do not see it as an optimal choice because employers would need to address apparel violations that may include logos of clothing brands, sports teams, and local schools. These logos may help to build morale and camaraderie. Just be clear about what is acceptable for your company.

What’s Next?

After the presidential election on November 3 and when the results are confirmed, you need to anticipate post-election workforce reactions. A portion of your employees may be elated, demoralized or angry.

Employers should be prepared for any ongoing potential workplace problems. Enforce your policies evenly across your organization and promptly address employee concerns about political speech in the workplace.