Talking Politics: HR’s Do’s and Don’ts
August 31, 2016 by Ed Weirauch
Believe it or not, you’re about to read an article about this year’s election that never mentions those two household names leading our “traditional” political parties. Instead, let’s take a serious look at what employers can and cannot say regarding political campaigns.
According to a recent US News and World Report posting, private sector employers may generally impose broad limits on employees’ political activities and discussions during working hours.” To be safe, we encourage employers to clearly state that employees are free to be politically active on their own time but on the job, political activity is strongly discouraged.
However, “federal law also protects employees’ rights to discuss labor issues such as wages and working conditions with each other,” the US News story points out. So it’s OK for an employee to say he/she is voting for a certain candidate because that candidate supports a federal minimum wage but not OK to urge co-workers to support a candidate because the candidate supports gun control or opposes abortion or favors the death penalty.
That’s the gray area. Now let’s look at the black and white.
- Federal law prohibits employers from coercing you to vote a certain way or contribute money to candidates or political action committees.
- Employers may not threaten to discipline or fire you if you don’t.
- Some states, such as New Jersey and Oregon, also have laws that prevent employers from compelling employees to participate as a “captive audience” in employer-sponsored political events.
The 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling allows employers “to communicate their political views and preferences to employees, and spend money to support a candidate, as long as that is not coordinated with a political campaign.” So employers can speak favorably about a candidate at a company-wide meeting for example but an official or employee of a political party can not be involved.
So what about talk around the coffee or copy machine? How can that be handled when one employee perhaps innocently mentions one candidate’s stand and another employee is then stirred to defend his/her candidate in response? Try these statements:
- Politics is a very hot topic this year so we’re not bringing them into the office. We respect everyone’s views and encourage you to do the same without discussion.
- Political conversations generally don’t help us achieve our company objectives so we’re keeping those discussions out of our workplace.
- If a co-worker keeps talking politics, try calmly saying “I’d rather not discuss politics at work” or “I don’t think we’re going to agree on this so let’s not talk about it.”
A lot of heat continues to be generated with this year’s election. So keep these thoughts in mind so you don’t end up in hot water.
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