There is no doubt that election season is in full swing. What can you do as an employer if political discussion takes over your company’s workplace? Not only can such discussion reduce employee productivity, it can foster bias and resentment that may lead to harassment and discrimination claims.
Generally speaking, private-sector employees don’t have a constitutional right to political expression in the workplace, and private-sector employers can regulate political speech during work time and on company premises. While a complete ban on all political speech may seem impossible, advising employees that political discussions should be limited and subject to workplace policies is reasonable. However, there are important considerations to remember before creating such a policy. The policy should be viewpoint-, candidate-, and party-neutral. Workplace policies that prohibit solicitation or political propaganda are acceptable provided they aspire to maintain peace in the workplace and not to solely limit employee speech.
The policy should not prohibit employees from speaking about workplace conditions or even political topics that could affect workplace conditions, such as wages and job-protected leave. Employers need to be careful to distinguish between speech in union and organized-labor contexts and other non-protected speech.
Additionally, employers should be aware that their policy cannot reach so far as to censor or adversely affect an employee for engaging in political speech outside of the workplace.
When it comes to enforcing the policy, avoid emotional and immediate decisions that political speech can often create. That is not to say that the policy can’t have teeth, but employers should always step back and analyze the situation, even if briefly, before enforcing discipline.