Culture

The Elephant and Donkey in the Office

By

Chad Raymond

| Oct 31, 2016

Policies on Political Activities at Work

The 2016 race for the White House has been intense, with candidates engaging in heated debates. As might be expected, the charged electoral atmosphere has permeated the workplace, causing record level divisiveness. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “over one-quarter of employees reported greater political volatility at their workplace in 2016 compared to previous election years.”

Political discussions easily can turn into arguments because people often view their political beliefs as part of their identity. To prevent political conflicts – which can negatively impact productivity and morale – many employers discourage political activities in the workplace.

First Amendment and the Public Sector vs. Private Sector

Public employees are governed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gives them rights to free speech in the workplace, though with some restrictions. But, contrary to popular belief, the First Amendment does not apply to the private sector and does not bar private employers from restricting employees’ political speech. With few exceptions, private employers can prohibit employees from engaging in political discussions at work.

Employers should examine state law, which may provide employee protections. For example, some states have off-duty conduct, free speech and political activity laws that give employees rights not offered under federal law. In addition, Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows unionized and non-unionized employees to engage in protected political advocacy, as long as it relates to labor and working conditions.

Employers who permit political discussions at work should be careful that such conversations do not violate legally protected characteristics, such as race, age, gender, disability and religion – which could prompt complaints of harassment and discrimination from offended employees.

Can employers tell employees not to display political signs in their work space?

Private employers can tell employees not to post campaign signs in their cubicles and require they remove political signs from their work space – as long as they don’t breach applicable state laws or protected Section 7 NLRA rights.

How can employers address political activities at work?

If your organization does not have a policy on political activities, consider speaking with your attorney to determine whether it needs one. If you do have a policy in place, consider reviewing for compliance with applicable laws. Does the policy cover relevant areas, such as displaying political buttons on work clothing, making campaign calls on lunch breaks and using office equipment for political activities? Organizations that allow employees to talk about politics at work should aim for a policy that minimizes distractions and encourages respectful political discussions.

About the Author

Chad Raymond

With over two decades of experience in employee engagement, benefits administration and government compliance, Chad has unparalleled knowledge in the fields of leadership and human resources. During his time at Paycom, Chad worked in several different capacities with Paycom including leading the product development team and HCM initiatives as well as the former director of Paycom’s service department. As the former vice president of HR, his vision and execution helped empower executives and their teams to reach their full potential.

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