Election Day is upon us, and so are the political discussions. Along with religion, sex, and money, politics is one of the most controversial topics that exists in our culture. While few employers actually prohibit political discussion in the workplace, inappropriate or heated exchanges that get out of hand can be disciplined, even to the point of termination. In light of November 4th, it’s important to understand the etiquette of political discussions in the workplace.
It is unreasonable to assume that there will be no chatter of politics at work, since the majority of our time is spent at work during the work week, and typically with the same people with whom we’ve become comfortable working and conversing with for years. And since politics can also play a significant role in both personal and professional parts of life, it can become natural “water cooler” conversation for some employees. However, political discussion is still generally considered taboo while on the clock.
Most employers wish to create a work environment where their employees enjoy the freedom to talk about things other than projects and job duties. However, the First Amendment doesn’t protect an employee’s right to express any and all of their political views in the workplace; an employer can discipline or discharge an employee for legitimate reasons, which includes inappropriate political expression or discussion (e.g. if an employee’s political viewpoints and expressions become disruptive to other employees or interfere with business productivity or workplace morale, employers have the right to take disciplinary action as outlined in their policies and practices).
It’s best to keep political conversations in the workplace to a minimum. If, however, despite your best efforts, a discussion becomes heated and gets out of hand, try to help employees find a common ground by validating each employee’s right to their opinion, acknowledging their differences, then reminding them to leave it at that. Do not “side” with either employee. Simply encourage that it’s okay for them to “agree to disagree,” and that it’s best to not discuss politics anymore.
Ultimately, the workplace is a place for work. Politically-charged conversations, while not illegal in the workplace, are best left for after-hours discussion. More times than not, they can lead to disagreements which can offend others, possibly ruin relationships, and lower workplace morale and productivity. It’s important to exercise one’s freedom of opinion, but best to treat political discussions with respect, or, whenever possible, to avoid these discussions altogether.