Water Cooler Politics

Political news is a hot topic. People are discussing the presidential election, the war in Iraq and gay marriage everywhere, including in the workplace. Every employee has his/her own outlook on politics and many employees want to share their opinions. However, while one employee may have good intentions in discussing his/her political views, another employee may not perceive it that way. A political discussion can quickly evolve into a political debate, leading to tense relationships in the workplace. If co-workers are unable to work together or if employees become distracted by intense political discussions, they will have less time to pay attention to work. For employers, this can translate into lost productivity, loss of employees or even a harassment lawsuit.

You cannot fire an employee because of his/her political views. California law prohibits employers from interfering with an employee’s outside political activities or from imposing political viewpoints on employees. However, you can take some steps to ensure a productive and cooperative work environment. Banning all political discussions is not recommended. However, you may and should take action if political discussions result in disruption or complaints. The approach you decide to take will depend on your policies and the work culture. Here are some simple steps that you as an employer can take in dealing with political discussions at work:

  • Restrict use of the company e-mail system and bulletin boards to work-related items.
  • Remind employees to treat everyone with respect and to maintain professionalism.
  • Do not force your views on your employees.
  • Have an open door policy and/or complaint procedure.
  • Be fair to all employees regardless of your own personal political views.
  • Address performance issues if they arise, but focus on the work issue, not the political issue.

These simple steps may help you avoid conflicts among employees due to their political views and prevent claims before they arise.