Navigating Politics In The Workplace

In this election year, employees inevitably will engage in discussions of the impactful and divisive political issues that are at the forefront of our national discourse.
United States Employment and HR
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In this election year, employees inevitably will engage in discussions of the impactful and divisive political issues that are at the forefront of our national discourse. Employers must be aware of the ways in which political discussions in the workplace have intensified and be prepared to navigate the legal and other challenges posed by these interactions. This checklist provides employers with an overview of key topics to consider when addressing issues related to political speech in the workplace.

1. First Amendment Protection. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it generally applies only to governmental action. Private employers generally have latitude to restrict political speech in the workplace unless it implicates other legal protections.

2. National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Section 7 of the NLRA protects non-supervisory employees in the private sector, regardless of whether they are members of a union. Employers generally cannot restrict covered employees' discussions related to the terms and conditions of their employment, i.e., "protected concerted activity." Political speech that also falls under NLRA protection must be considered carefully.

3. Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policies. Political speech may implicate discrimination or harassment concerns when it includes topics related to protected categories or characteristics, e.g., race, gender, religion. Employers should have robust anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies that cover these issues.

4. State Laws Protecting Political Speech. State laws may protect employees' political activity, expression or affiliation. These laws include prohibitions against initimdation, threats, or adverse actions based on employee voting, political activities, or candidate endorsements. Employers must assess their policies and practices in each state where they have employees because the scope of these laws varies by jurisdiction.

5. Respectful Workplace and Other Policies. Employers should consider adopting policies that promote respectful behavior and prevent political discussions from escalating into conflicts. Employers also should consider dress code and other workplace policies concerning political attire or messages, and ensure consistent, content-neutral enforcement of those policies. When reports of potential policy violations are made, employers should respond promptly.

6. Train Employees. Employees should receive regular training on company policies and their rights, including the boundaries of political speech in the workplace.

Employers should tailor their policies to address political speech while respecting employees' rights and maintaining a positive work environment. Each workplace is unique, however, and issues often require context and fact-specific solutions with the assistance of counsel.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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