It can happen anytime, but especially in a presidential election year: Political discussions among employees erupt into loud, angry disputes.

Is there anything you can do about it? Don’t employees have freedom of speech, even if it disrupts their work?

Yes, you can try to quell political disruptions, and no, employees don’t have unlimited freedom of speech, especially if you’re a private-sector employer.

Policy wanted
As with many issues, the way to handle this one is, first, to have a policy. (According to a SHRM survey, only about one quarter of employers do.)

Your policy could go so far as to ban political discussion at work. Or you could warn employees that political talk that turns disruptive will be a cause for discipline, like any other disruption of the workplace.

You’ll want to decide, too, whether your policy will cover non-verbal expression like the wearing of buttons and t-shirts, or the e-mailing or social media posting of political materials during work.

Two caveats:

  • The National Labor Relations Act protects speech related to work conditions. Thus, if employees discuss, say, the healthcare law, even in partisan political terms, you’re taking a risk if you try to shut them down.
  • Four states – California, Connecticut, Louisiana and South Carolina – bar employers from limiting workplace political talk.

In either of the above cases, however, you could still discipline employees whose political talk turned disruptive.

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