What many employees may not realize is that their right under the First Amendment of the Constitution and their freedom of speech does not follow them into the private workplace. There is no constitutional right to free speech in the workplace. Which means that if an employer does not want any political conversation to occur, it is their right to disallow it altogether. The only exception to that rule is anything that falls under the U.S. Labor Laws in which employees always have the right to discuss their wages, hours and working conditions with other workers on work premises.
So at what point does expressing a political opinion or viewpoint cross the line into harassing or hostile behavior? And how should an employer handle a disagreement or polarizing political debate among employees when it comes to politics or political viewpoints when employers work hard to establish cultural diversity and inclusion in the the workplace?
HR and leadership’s role is to always create an inclusive and nontoxic work environment, and unfortunately, political conversations can often become derisive and lead to disagreement. When a heated political debate does erupt between employees and tensions run high, the best way for managers to handle it is to refer back to their Employee Handbook or policy on respectful workplaces. This encourages the employee to rethink their stance as it relates to the way they are treating their colleague and vice versa.
The HR Consultants at JB Consulting Systems understand that stepping in the middle of these discussions can feel uncomfortable and if not handled fairly and tactfully, it could create further disagreement and tension.
Here are some tips to handle these situations and get ahead of any potential problems:
- Ensure your Employee Handbook and Respectful Workplace policies are up to date and hold training sessions on showing respect to colleagues.
- Ensure that employees understand what constitutes as opinion could lead to a level of harassment and potentially violate the Anti-Harassment & Discrimination policy
- Set the example from top-down. Walk the talk and as a leader, don’t engage or initiate these political discussions inside the workplace.
- If break rooms have TVs or radios, keep political programs off during work hours
- Steer clear of conversations in meetings or group sessions that veer toward politics. Stamp out any passive-aggressive quips or commentary that are negative.
- Limit or ban visual displays of political affiliations in the workplace (with the exception of federal and state posters or Right to Vote publications).
- Lastly, keep in mind that certain types of speech under the National Labor Relations Board protects workers’ rights to discuss unionization or working conditions and avoid banning these protected conversations.
And when in doubt or faced with a situation that you’d like advice or a second opinion on, email us at HRhelp for information on how we can help you.