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Political Discussions in the Workplace
Post by Anna M. Pepelnjak
Once again, elections are fast approaching. Divisive issues are at stake. The sides are profoundly separated and the “middle ground” looks to be disappearing.
So, what happens when folks having politically opposite views come to work? The disputes that are taking place in the media, on talk shows and on the internet have no place in the employment setting. Why? Because in this environment, even “water cooler” discussions can get out of hand.
Private employers are free to limit political dialogue during the workday because employees in private industry do not have “free speech” rights, as public employees do. Therefore, private sector employers are encouraged to adopt policies addressing political discourse. In addition, private employers should examine and modify existing policies, such as e-mail and internet use policies, to guard against unauthorized use for political purposes. Courts have even upheld private sector prohibitions against employees wearing campaign buttons to work.
However, even private sector employers lack unfettered authority to regulate workplace conversations. The NLRB has said that discussions relating to union activity are protected, whether or not the workplace is unionized. For example, a discussion regarding the Affordable Care Act might be protected, even if the participants become heated during the conversation.
In addition, private sector employers should avoid dictating to employees how to vote. Rather, employers should adopt policies that encourage employees to exercise their best judgment to vote for the candidate of their choice, while maintaining respect for one another’s differing views in the workplace.