Water cooler talk about politics can create a hostile work environment for staff and an HR nightmare for business. While certainly everyone has the right to free speech, the First Amendment does not provide blanket protection in the workplace. As tensions are expected to rise as we head toward November, the law firm Fennemore Craig has some suggested guidelines to help keep the peace at work: (1) There are no federal laws in place that protect employees from discrimination or retaliation as a result of their political activities or discussions in the workplace. (2) The First Amendment does not apply to the private sector in most cases as it only protects an individual’s right to free speech without interference from the government, but not from anyone else. (3) Employers should approach conversations about discussing political candidates or issues with care to ensure they do not discriminate against a protected class such as race, religion, or national origin as defined by federal or state law. (4) Take into account the National Labor Relations Act that protects politically charged speech in some cases by giving employees the right to engage in collective bargaining activities and can cover interactions between employers and employees. (5) Consult with a labor relations attorney about an appropriate code of conduct clearly defining policies around political comments in the workplace. It can go a long way to stabilizing the environment.
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