Discussing Politics in the Workplace

Based on the plethora of recent articles, it seems people are writing (almost obsessively) about political discussions in the workplace.  Much has been said about the pros, cons and legalities.  I’ve summarized a few common themes that have crept into just about every article I’ve read:

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  • Political discussions in the workplace have become more acceptable. One article even called it fashionable.  Some employers believe it can be healthy by fostering an atmosphere of free expression and encouraging ways to find common ground with co-workers.  Others argue it has the potential to be a huge time waster and an unnecessary diversion from productive activities, especially during election season.
  • The reality is that it is very difficult to control.  Whether you have a “no discussion” policy or allow some banter, proceed with caution and beware of unintentional consequences.  What seems like a spirited debate can quickly escalate into a claim of harassment and/or discrimination.
  • Put measures in place to strictly avoid abuse of position.  An employee’s political views should have no influence one way or the other in performance reviews or promotion considerations.
  • In the private sector, Freedom of Speech does not necessarily extend to the private property of the business.  For example, employers have a right to forbid use of company e-mail for distributing political cartoons, etc.  And, they can restrict t-shirts or buttons with political flare, if the employee deals directly with customers.  Public sector (government) employees are held to a different standard.
  • Workplace policies should be independent of political influence.  For example, requests for time off to volunteer on a political campaign or to attend a rally should be treated with the same rules as a time off requests for any other reason – advanced notice, vacation time banked, etc. (not to be confused with time off to vote. See Voter Time Off, Oct 22, 2008).

Has the political discussion in your organization impacted the workplace?  If so, how?


Links to a few articles: