On the day after election day, politics may still be percolating as specific races go through a post mortem, or worse, recounts. This is a topic that may likely engage your workers – hot elections and controverrsial political issues can and do carry over to water cooler debates. In a recent poll conducted by AP-Pew Research, nearly half of all respondents, or 43 percent, said they debate political issues at work.

Here’s a round-up of some news and web stories that discuss both employer and employee rights related to politics in the workplace.

Arthur Susser of Littler Mendelson, a national employment and labor law firm, discusses the fact that workers are often surprised to learn that their employers can restrict political expression at work. He suggests some steps that employers can take to restrict workday activities to business pursuits, even in states with laws protecting political expression.

Geoff Williams of Entrepreneur.com suggests that, despite how pervasive politics has become, we should take the advice of experts and keep it out of work or ” … risk an entire Pandora’s box of problems spilling out to the office place.” He offers 5 tips on defusing political passions before they start at the workplace.

Susan M. Heatherfield of Human Resources at About.com discusses the reasons why it’s best to nix political discussions at work. She also offers some helpful tips for supervisors who become aware of potentially negative political discussions. She suggests that politics should be treated like any other situation that holds the potential for escalating into conflict.

Workplace Fairness discusses employee rights and the limitations of the law in relation to retaliation for political activity.

Margarita Bauza has a story entitled Working with politics: Experts advise treading lightly and knowing office policies before speaking on the issues in Detroit Free Press:

Typically, company policies addressing political speech deal with displaying signs of support and soliciting donations, said Jennifer L. Berman, an attorney who has drafted numerous workplace policies dealing with political speech. Berman is managing director of CBIZ Human Capital Services in Chicago.

“In a private workplace, you can prohibit any type of speech you want,” Berman said. “But that would be a little bit stronger than what most companies want to do.”

No office is immune to rules regarding political speech — even political offices. Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, a Democrat, prohibits assistant prosecutors from supporting opponents. There is language to that effect in their union contract.

Nemeth said such policies are rare and potentially violate free-speech rights. But they at least define what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace, she said.

Michelle Kara of The Mercury has a story advising caution when talking politics at work:

Peter Susser, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Littler Mendelson, the nation’s largest employment and labor law firm, encourages employers to “ensure that work environments are safe, are free of hostility and conducive to productivity” by “protecting employees from being badgered or pressured by overzealous political advocates.”

Susser said many people wrongly assume the Constitution and the Bill of Rights entitle them to express their political views whenever and wherever they wish. In fact, “workers at private-sector companies that are employed at will can be terminated for their political beliefs as long as their dismissal complies with employment statutes and does not run afoul of other state-law guarantees,” he stated in a news release.


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