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HR Insights with Ali: Addressing Political Speech in the Workplace

Posted on 5/3/2017 by Ali Oromchian, Esq.
With all the interest in the political issues facing our country, it is no surprise that political discussions are now popping up everywhere. The advent of social media means that people are getting their news more quickly, and that much of that news can be particularly attention-grabbing. But what do you do when political discussions begin taking the place of your practice’s harmless office banter?

The first amendment does not guarantee free speech in all locations - it only prevents governmental intrusions, meaning that your private business is not subject to its regulations. However, there may be other legal sources which can prevent you from infringing upon the rights of expression among your employees. The National Labor Relations Act, for example, does not explicitly cover free speech, but it does protect the rights of employees to engage in activities intended to preserve their “mutual aid and protection.” The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that employees can engage in political activities which contrast with the opinions of their employers during their non-working hours. Also remember that you as an employer never want to take any action which could be seen as discrimination against a particular ethnicity, gender or religion. All of this makes stepping into the political arena as a business owner a little dicey.

If you feel that the political discussions in your office have gotten out of control, or if employees are complaining that certain discussions by their coworkers are making them uncomfortable, then it may be beneficial to adopt a general policy of avoiding the discussion of politics or other divisive issues while at work - as long as you can do so without coming down on one side or another of a particular political topic. Many employers have “appropriate office talk” policies in place, and while you may not have thought you needed one in the past, current events may require you to change your outlook. Your workplace should be a place of safety for your team, and if political discussions are derailing that goal, then you should consider finding ways to keep those topics away from the workplace.

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