From Ballots to Boardrooms: An Employer’s Guide to Election Season and Politics in the Workplace

By Andrew Lahr
Published May 17, 2024

Political Talk in the Workplace GovDocs 2024

Ensure compliance and build a healthy workplace with robust policies for election season and politics at your locations.

The Challenges of Election Season for Employers

Election season is upon us, and so are the many political minefields that employers are expected to navigate during the months leading up to voting day. Polarizing opinions (expressed loudly and often), heated arguments between employees, and complicated voting leave requirements are just a few areas that could dampen employee morale and challenge your company’s compliance. 

Multi-State Policies for Politics: Untangling the Web

To further complicate matters, companies with locations in multiple states must track and manage a complex web of election-related legislation to inform their policies and procedures related to voting rights and workplace politics. 

This all might seem a bit overwhelming – and for good reason. This is complicated stuff. Rest assured though, because there are many great tools and resources that can help you along the way. So, let’s dive into a few areas that tend to befuddle employers come election season, and where they can benefit from having clear and informed policies in place to create a healthy culture of compliance this election season. 

Managing Political Talk in the Workplace: How to (And Should You) Do So?

Contrary to popular belief, our right to “freedom of speech” doesn’t really apply to the relationship between employer and employee. The first amendment only guarantees protection from the suppression of speech by the government and doesn’t usually include speech regulated by private employers. But this doesn’t mean you should ban or even restrict political talk in the workplace, and you should always tread carefully when it comes to policies related to discussion of certain topics. 

There are a few exceptions to an employer’s right to manage political speech in the workplace, especially when it comes to collective bargaining and group actions by employees. There are specific protections guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) that every employer should know about and integrate into their policies, especially as they relate to politics and election season. You should know where and when these rules apply at your own company. 

Take Note of Captive Audience Laws

Restrictions to speech can often go both ways. Also related to political speech in the workplace, employers in several states should be aware of legislation that prohibits employers from requiring employee participation in meetings related to politics or religion.  Be sure to double-check your policies in those jurisdictions to make sure all your locations are compliant.

Are You Required to Provide Paid Leave for Voting?

The short answer is that while there are no federal laws requiring employers to provide time off for voting, there are many states that do. As if that wasn’t complicated enough, your locations in states with paid time off for voting will likely have different requirements that need to be met to remain compliant.  

As an example, in Georgia, an employer is required to provide an employee with “any necessary time off” that doesn’t exceed two hours, and the employer may also specify the hours in which an employee may be absent. While in Minnesota, an employee is entitled to take as much time as is necessary to vote on the morning of election day in regularly scheduled elections at both the state and federal level. Then there are states with no legislation whatsoever. 

This presents quite the challenge for employers, especially those without modern tools designed to help them manage paid leave across multiple jurisdictions, including those laws related to voting leave. We recommend you seek support here if you haven’t already, as this isn’t an area you should risk managing on your own, especially if you have locations across many jurisdictions. 

Election Season Policy is About More Than Compliance

Great companies go above and beyond when it comes to creating a healthy, collaborative work culture. Many people simply don’t feel comfortable discussing politics in the workplace (or even having to listen to others talk politics, for that matter). In fact, a recent poll found that 47 percent of Americans would choose politics if they were given the choice to ban one topic of discussion from the workplace. 

Fostering an environment where employees feel comfortable and productive is important in any successful business, especially during an election season. Establishing clear voting leave policies and setting expectations for what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to politics in the workplace can play a big part in creating that positive environment. You may not be required to take these steps, but competitive employers will anyways. 

This is a great example of how going above and beyond compliance can often be the best course of action. As an added bonus, prioritizing a healthy work culture can boost productivity and help attract and retain top talent at your company – a fact that the most successful companies know well.

Help is Out There

At GovDocs, we know that managing your employment law compliance across multiple jurisdictions is no easy task. And as we enter election season, it’s important to safeguard both your compliance and the well-being of your employees during the months leading up to what is sure to be a contentious 2024 general election. 

Our paid leave software solution was recently expanded to include resources to help you stay on top of the increasingly complex landscape of state-specific voting leave laws. If you’re looking for guidance with this or in navigating the many other challenges of election season, give us a call.

This Employment Law News blog is intended for market awareness only, it is not to be used for legal advice or counsel.

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