Can Politics in the Workplace Leave You in Hot Water?

Can Politics in the Workplace Leave You in Hot Water?

Every time we have an election year human resources departments and business professionals question how much politics should be present in the workplace. This isn’t just any election year, this is one of the hotly debated elections that has everyday people polarized. so what can workplaces do? We’ve seen recently in the news that Goodyear may have taken a misstep, even if unintended, and attempting to address politics in their workplace.

How can you move forward with your workplace to ensure that you don’t get into legal trouble before the November election rolls around? Here our business lawyers covered some of the state to state policies on politics in the workplace. We’ve also addressed some general practices that can help you regulate the workplace without overstepping.

The First Amendment

The first amendment applies across the board and guarantees that people have the freedom of speech. the First Amendment does cover other elements such as the right to peaceably assemble and the right to address grievances through petition to the government. The question that business owners and HR departments have is how this applies within the workplace.

In Connecticut the regulations directly addressed First Amendment speech in the workplace. Employers cannot discipline or discharge staff because of exercising their first amendment rights.

Policies and Applying Them Evenly

The most recent example of This falls back to the mention of Goodyear Tire earlier. It is possible for companies to create clear and concise policies on the present of discussing or representing social and political issues in the workplace. Social and political issues are rarely independent of each other. It’s a sticky spot for businesses.

Goodyear clearly laid out in their policy what they deemed acceptable and unacceptable. Their policy represented that political attire was not acceptable, but select social stances were acceptable and other stances or views were not.

Any good policy that addresses discussing politics or even social issues in the workplace must apply to all employees consistently. Regardless of the political view or of the social view, employees must be treated equally.

To accomplish this, many businesses turn to umbrella-type statements. Something to the effect that wearing political attire to work is inappropriate. Note that this would fall under the dress code, not a political policy.

Keep in mind that in Connecticut you cannot discipline or discharge staff because of political discussion. However, you can address that when discussing personal, political, or social matters, the discussion needs to remain civil. With that approach you are not addressing the speech itself. You are addressing the aftermath which may be a toxic work environment or behavior that would affect people’s work activities.

Political Activity and Campaigning

Employers must be extremely cautious because they cannot regulate an employees off-duty political activities unless they present certain dangers for the company.  For example if a staff member is putting the company’s reputation at risk because of their political activity, the company may choose to address the situation.  Other dangers include disruption to employee morale, potential legal liability, and loss of business relationships as a result of the conduct.

However, employers that do address political activity often face claims of discrimination, invasion of privacy, and attempting to regulate non-work-related conduct. This leads to a lot of legal trouble, and while you were simply attempting to protect your business, you may now have to protect yourself in court.

When it comes to campaigning it is commonplace for companies to have non-solicitation policies. Basically these policies outline that employees should refrain from campaigning or Distributing political literature during work hours. Breaks and mealtimes are still free-game because that is the employee’s personal time. Some companies attempt to uphold a neutral stance and ask that employees don’t wear buttons, t-shirts, or other political dress. Of course, that means that the policy must apply to all employees.

How a Connecticut Business Attorney Can Help.

Is it possible that politics in your  workplace have gotten out of hand? Perhaps your workplace didn’t previously have a policy or code on discussing or addressing political elements in the workplace because it wasn’t necessary. How can you update your policies or protect yourself and your business from these ever growing concerns?

Contact Aeton Partners business attorneys to ensure that you can protect yourself and your company. It is possible for disgruntled employees to take legal action against employers that they felt slighted them for exercising free speech. We understand that you must uphold your company’s reputation, the safety of the staff, and allow them to exercise their rights. We’ll help you navigate these choppy legal waters through these polarized times.

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