Life might get a little more contentious at the water cooler over the next few months because we are officially in silly season. Wikipedia defines this as the time in the U.S. between early summer and early October in an election year.

“Primary elections are over at this time, but formal debates have not started and the general election is still many weeks away. Issues raised during this period are likely to be forgotten by the election, so candidates may rely on frivolous political posturing and hyperbole to get media attention and raise money.”

Expect that employees will be talking about politics in your workplace, and it’s a topic that can incite passion. According to a survey on the issue of politics in the workplace,

36 percent of workers acknowledge discussing politics at work, while 46 percent say they plan to talk about this year’s presidential election with co-workers. About 23 percent said chats about politics led to a heated debate or a fight with a colleague.”

People sometimes misinterpret “free speech” to mean that they can say anything, anytime, anyplace. Not so. Private employers generally have the right to limit political discussion in the workplace — but there are gray areas. In some instances, the NLRB protects political speech that relates to work-related issues. And employers can’t dictate the direction of conversations between employees who are on breaks or at lunch. When it comes to banning discussions about politics, the issue isn’t quite so much a question of “can you” as “should you.”

Instead of imposing restrictions, which may be difficult to enforce, some experts suggest that common sense should rule the day. Employers may want to establish some ground rules by re-emphasizing the values of professionalism, respect, and tolerance for others – including differences of political opinion. It may be a good time to dust off and circulate your organization’s “code of conduct” from your Employee Handbook.

Focus on productivity – don’t allow discussions of any variety to disrupt the workplace. Be prepared to intervene and nip things in the bud if things get heated or argumentative. And it should go without saying that, as an employer, you should avoid any adverse employment action related to an employee’s political opinions.
For more, see our prior posts on politics at work

When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.


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