Political and social issues — such as the upcoming election cycle, Arizona’s immigration law, the economy, and health reform — have sparked a lot of heated debate at your company. What can you do to make sure political discussions don’t adversely affect your workplace?
Employers need to be aware of the divide between expression and harassment in the workplace, according to Lonnie Giamela, an employment law attorney with the law firm of Fisher & Phillips LLP. When it comes to political expression at work, Giamela offers the following DOs and DON’Ts:
- DO evaluate motives. Political discussions at work can expose sharp differences about irrelevant issues, which can create obstacles that make functioning together difficult. It may be wise for all involved to ask, "Why risk it?"
- DO remain neutral and comply with state laws regarding voting time. Employers should facilitate and encourage employees to vote, but never for a particular candidate. They must also ensure adequate time off for voting.
- DO ensure policies are objectively developed and enforced. Regardless of individual political views, policies regarding politics in the workplace must be administered equally and without bias. While it's okay to allow some forms of traditional political expression; formal meetings to discuss politics and heated discussions bordering on harassment are different stories.
- DO monitor political discussion. What employers aren't aware of can hurt them. It's the responsibility of the employer to be well-informed about what types of political conversations or arguments occur at work and work-related functions.
- DON'T push political agendas. Employers and managers can find themselves in a heap of legal trouble if they spread propaganda. Even heated political arguments can cause tensions to erupt, leading to undesirable hostility in the workplace.
- DON'T criticize, joke or jab. Employers should beware of inappropriate comments about political affiliations. Even subtle jokes or jabs can make some employees feel like targets. Comments like, "You're only supporting her because she's a woman," can turn into a world of trouble for employers.
- DON'T solicit funds. Employees should never feel coerced into supporting or contributing to a candidate as a condition of employment. Even if employees are doing the soliciting, depending upon the circumstances, such requests can be illegal.
- DON'T gloat. When all is said and done and the votes are counted, resist the urge to brag about a win. It will only cause discomfort.
Source: Fisher & Phillips LLP; http://www.laborlawyers.com.