Political discourse has definitely permeated the workplace in recent years but do political discussions really belong in the workplace? The quick and easy answer is No. As a preliminary matter, there is no protection under the law for political affiliation from an employment law standpoint. An employee’s political association is not a protected class, like race, religion, sex, or bases covered by anti-discrimination laws. A private employer is generally allowed to have policies governing the boundaries of discourse in the workplace and can even regulate political speech. Frankly, they have an obligation to act if political discourse in the workplace becomes a mechanism or a conduit for discriminatory conduct.
The best course of action for employers is to keep employees focused on the workplace as a place for business and avoid hot-button issues altogether. Employers certainly can remind employees that while everyone is entitled to an opinion, in the workplace, the job at hand is the primary focus. We encourage employers to have neutral policies that set the standard to resolve problems when they arise and address any behaviors that compromise the Company’s mission regardless of the employee’s political viewpoint or affiliation.
Most importantly, those policies need to be implemented consistently and equally and employers must ensure that their neutral policies do not disproportionately impact a protected group. For instance, while political affiliation is not a protected class, but disciplining all employees with a specific political affiliation would still be problematic if most of the employees affected fall in a protected class.
If you need help creating or vetting your neutral policies or assistance with any other employment law matter, please contact us. We are here to help!