There are just some things you shouldn’t talk about at the office—sex, money, religion and, of course, politics. But as we all know, these taboo topics often make up the most interesting water cooler chatter.
As the 2016 Presidential Election heats up, so do your politically passionate employees. Unfortunately, that passion usually leads to arguments, hard feelings, and a hostile work environment.
After a while, it can be hard to ignore the elephant (or maybe the donkey) in the room. So what can you do?
Employers ask us a lot: “What can I legally do to address political conversations in my workplace?”
Well, we don’t recommend you come straight out and ban political conversations in the office. That would be difficult to enforce and could potentially violate a few laws.
(Plus, even if you did, people would still talk. Employees love to talk to each other about anything and everything – from hot dates to cold weather.)
What we do recommend is taking a few steps to alleviate some of the political tension:
3 Ways to Quiet Political Conversations In The Workplace
#1 Make employees aware of the detrimental effects of political conversations and advise them to use discretion
At the next team meeting (or in an email), tell everyone that you are aware that politics is a hot topic right now, but ask them to be careful about what they say to their fellow colleagues.
Let them know you are not banning political conversations, but you want them to be conscious of the fact that everyone holds different views.
Remind them that political talk has the potential to create a hostile environment and/or offend someone – and your company supports diversity. Therefore, any discussions that make people feel left out, disadvantaged or discriminated against will not be tolerated.
Also stress that talking politics, just like any other topic of conversation including what little Johnny did to your new sofa or what your big plans are for this weekend, should not interfere with job productivity.
#2 Remind managers of possible negative outcomes if they participate in political conversations
Supervisors, managers, or owners/CEOs have a special responsibility because they manage other people.
That makes getting involved in political chit chat even more tricky.
The big consideration here is discrimination claims.
Consider this: What happens if a manager gets in a heated political conversation with a subordinate and then carries that grudge all the way to their performance evaluation?
That employee could claim discrimination.
Note: We emphasize the word “could”, because it depends.
Here’s what we mean:
Currently, there are no federal discrimination laws protecting employees’ political affiliations or activities.
However, some states do have laws offering that protection (be sure to check yours), and state employees are also protected.
Now consider this: What if a manager discussing politics says a presidential candidate is corrupt because of his religion?
Not only is that inappropriate to say in a work setting, but it can also lead to legal trouble. (Religion is a protected class in state and federal anti-discrimination laws.)
See, we told you it can get tricky.
Here’s what we suggest:
The best way to deal with both issues to just discuss them with your managers and supervisors and describe the consequences of such actions, whatever they may be.
Be sure to relay any information about your state’s political discrimination laws, if applicable.
Remember: Whether your employees’ political beliefs are protected by law or not, it is still unethical for supervisors to let political beliefs play a role in performance evaluations or any job-related decisions. Remind your supervisors of that.
Also, tell your leadership to be mindful of comments they make about political candidates that could be seen as discriminatory, especially if referring to protected categories under Title VII, like religion or gender.
Oh, and don’t forget to let it be known that as manager, supervisor or CEO, you will not let your employees’ personal political views affect your view of their job performance or any job-related decisions.
#3 Create a social media policy in your employee handbook
In 2016, political discussion on social media is also of concern.
You definitely can’t stop employees from posting to their personal social media accounts. (Note the word “personal.”)
But you can ask them to post a disclaimer if they list your company as his/her employer.
Many employers mention something like this in their employee handbook.
Here’s an example:
“Associates identifying their place of employment on social media are asked to include a statement that all references and opinions expressed are the associates alone and are not intended to represent the views or opinions of the company.”
Pretty easy, right?
There you have it: 3 ways to quiet political conversations in the workplace.
With all that said, who are you going to vote for? I kid, I kid.