Human resources management tends to be a complex field. However, sometimes HR solutions to challenging, even volatile, problems can be fairly simple: just say no. This may be the case with political discussions in the workplace.
Especially in our current climate, where people are divided and passionate about their political beliefs, what starts out as a casual chat about this candidate or that legislation can quickly ramp up into an intense discussion not appropriate for the workplace, and that can lead to resentment. In order to avoid deep divisions among colleagues, the smartest solution likely is banning such speech altogether.
One question that might come up: what about the First Amendment? Doesn’t the Constitution guarantee an employee’s right to express themselves at work? The quick answer is no. According to U.S. News and World Report, an employer can put the kibosh on political prattle in the workplace during business hours. The exception is discussion where labor-related issues come into play—for example, proposed laws affecting unionizing, worker’s compensation and the like.
Is a no-politics policy necessary? That decision is up to you. Some HR managers may feel spelling out “no politics talk at the office” in the company handbook could expose the company to trouble or hard feelings, especially if an employee feels the company is actively working to squelch union organizing, or trying to suppress one party in favor of another. If your organization does choose to add such language to your policy, it might be wise to include language stressing that managers will not pressure their staff to choose a particular candidate or party, and (in compliance with Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act) that managers cannot bar employees from talking about union concerns.
Ideally, a word to the wise would be enough to eliminate political talk and conflict among your staff. Unfortunately, considering that people feel very strongly about many controversial issues, even the most even-keeled employee might forget themselves and let a political opinion slip now and then. Much more serious is the worker who festoons their cubicle with campaign signs, or turns the breakroom into their personal podium at which to air their views, making other employees extremely uncomfortable. If this should happen, follow the same procedures you would if the employee in question was acting out in a more general way—a simple warning, then if the problem persists, follow up with additional progressive discipline steps as necessary—in order to quiet the political talk down and help keep the peace at your office.
Got any additional concerns or questions about dealing with political chatter and conflict in your office? We’d love to help you sort through the matter—feel free to contact us.