Limiting Political Discussions in the Workplace

political discussionsLimiting political discussions in the workplace? It seems that everyone has an opinion on the current state of affairs in Washington, not to mention right here in California. Employers and employees alike may be experiencing some discomfort as the temperature rises in some of these discussions, and one might wonder if limits on speech in the workplace are a reasonable, desirable, or even legal option.

Political Discussions and the First Amendment

Censorship of free speech is against the law, right? Well, not necessarily. Constitutionalists generally agree that the first amendment applies to government censorship. That means that a company is entirely within its rights to limit, or even banish political discussions in the workplace entirely. The rationale behind such regulations generally relates to productivity and efficiency. While state and federal laws guarantee employees protection from discrimination based on political affiliation, employers may sanction or even fire an employee who disrupts the workplace, lacks efficiency, or engages in practices that create a conflict of interest with the company. That being said, California Labor Code prohibits policies that direct or control employees’ political activities.

Wearing Political Buttons at Work

Again, employers have the right to dictate the dress code in the workplace, which means policies that ban political buttons, t-shirts, and so forth are allowable. Of course, an employer cannot pick and choose, allowing some political views to be put on display and disallowing others.

On the other hand, the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA) expressly allows for the right of employees to wear items associated with their labor union in the workplace. Although unions are somewhat political organizations, union members may wear union-sponsored buttons or other apparel that send political messages.

Political Discussions During Lunch?

You would think that during your lunch hour in the break room, you could say whatever you would like, but you would be wrong. Employers are tasked with making sure employees in protected categories do not feel disaffected. If an employee were to state, for example, that it is a good thing Hilary Clinton was not elected because she is a woman, it could mean trouble. Why?  Because the comment centers on a protected factor – gender. Women who hear the comment could take offense or feel alienated due to gender discrimination. Employers would be wise to have strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies in place and to quickly investigate complaints and rectify situations that cause discomfort among workers.

Are Off-Duty Political Activities Protected?

In California, employers may not intimidate or prohibit workers from engaging in legal political activities, including managing a campaign or running for office. [Read more…]


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