Yes We CAN (talk about politics in the workplace)
As election times draw near, news about debates, political faux pas, and myriad guarantees are becoming more and more entrenched in our lives. Which, coincidentally, brings about the oh so common political discussions among friends, families and even co-workers.
As an avid political junkie I enjoy the occasional, lively debate. I have also witnessed several political discussions gone sour. While disagreement over politics can generate a healthy exchange of thoughts and ideas it can also cause a great deal of frustration and anger.
Which begs the question: Can employers limit their employees’ political speech in furtherance of a drama-free work environment?
The short answer is no. Political discussions can be problematic at times, but prohibiting them altogether is against California’s public policy. California Labor Code prohibits employers from making, adopting or enforcing any rule, regulation or policy that:
(a) forbids or prevents employees from engaging or participating in politics or from becoming candidates for public office, and
(b) controls or directs, or tends to control or direct the political activates or affiliation of employees. (Labor Code §1101).
There’s more. Labor Code §1102 provides:
No employer shall coerce or influence or attempt to coerce or influence his employees through or by means of threat of discharge or loss of employment to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity.
Meaning, Labor Code §§ 1101-1102 reinforce the substantial public interest in protecting the “fundamental right” of employees to engage in political activity without interference or threat of retaliation from employers. (Ali v. L.A. Focus Publication (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 1477, 1487).
Therefore, in California, employers should be very careful in prohibiting political discussion and even more so dismissing an employee for voicing his or her political opinions.
However, employers are not left to navigate through the rough seas of politics without an anchor. There are a few steps employers can take to promote a pleasant work environment during the upcoming election season:
- Employers may draft or revise their employee conduct policies to direct employees to observe professional behavior at work and avoid using rude and abusive language or outbursts toward management, employees or others.
- Employers are further encouraged to remind employees about acceptable conduct in the workplace.
- If you are struggling with a similar issue, please consult a legal advisor
In the meanwhile, don’t get upset about politics. Take the example of Will Rogers, who once famously said: I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.