Can you Ban Political Discussions in Your Workplace? (Yes, but Carefully!)
With the upcoming presidential election, employers need to establish a clear policy on discussing politics at work. Employees’ freedom of speech rights in the workplace is restricted by the impact of said speech. In other words, if the speech poses a problem for the workplace, it can be banned by the employer.
Speech poses a problem for the workplace if it’s detrimental to the harmony and culture of that workplace. For example, if the speech causes an employee to feel disrespected or discriminated against, it can be banned.
Unsurprisingly, many employees find politics to be a distraction. A recent Gartner survey found that 47% of employees in the U.S. report the upcoming election is distracting them from work.
The Effect of Political Discussions on Employees
While employees will discuss politics at work, a fair number of them don’t enjoy these discussions. As found in the same Gartner survey, political discussions can be stressful for employees. Due to stress, some might even resent coming to work or interact less with their coworkers. Employee morale could dip due to this, as could retention and productivity.
The most alarming findings from the report can be found below. The numbers may not seem large, but even one employee’s discomfort can have a large impact on the office.
- 26% of employees report that the election has had a moderate or large impact on their ability to perform their jobs.
- 33% of employees report that the election has caused them to spend more time reading political news at work.
- 36% of employees report that the election has caused them to avoid talking to or working with a coworker because of their political views.
- 31% of employees report that political conversations at work are stressful and frustrating.
It’s clear from these statistics that political discussions at work can be detrimental to the functions of the office. It causes a problem when employees refuse to work with others or are distracted at work. This has a direct impact on performance and productivity, which in turn impacts the bottom line.
Creating a Policy to Address Politics in the Workplace
It’s important when creating a workplace policy to ensure that you’re complying with the law. Federal and state laws do protect freedom of speech to some extent, but there are exceptions made for speech in the workplace.
Organizations need to clearly articulate the policy’s goals, what the prohibited activities and behaviors are, and what disciplinary action will be taken for violating the policy. It should be clear to the employees what they can and can’t do and why. This will help to ensure compliance with your employees and an understanding of how the policy will benefit them.
Examples of behavior that your policy could prohibit are:
- Employees wearing, displaying, or using any item with political language or images on it. For example, employees wearing a button for a certain candidate or using a mug for a political party.
- Employees harassing and unfairly treating others for their political opinions. This can come in the form of avoidance, refusal to work with certain employees, or using offensive language.
- Employees discussing hot-button issues with each other that are likely to cause conflict. Examples of these issues are the abortion debate and the gun control debate.
It’s important to emphasize that this policy and all of its terms are designed to improve the culture of the workplace. A policy like this will promote diversity and inclusion and reduce employee dissatisfaction with work. Working in a positive environment encourages employees to come to work and enjoy their job.
It’s important to create such a positive environment. A good way to start is to curb disagreements and disruptions before they begin. Limiting and monitoring political discussion can help to achieve this goal.
- BasuMallick, Chiradeep. “Talking Politics at Work: HR’s Roles and Responsibilities.” HR Technologist, 17 January 2020.
- “Gartner Survey Shows 47% of Employees Report Being Distracted at Work by the U.S. Presidential Election.” Gartner, 18 February 2020.
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