The politics around this presidential election has divided people this year more than any other in recent memory. It is no surprise that conversations around these divisive issues are spreading into small businesses and virtual offices everywhere. What rules can small business owners set for discussing politics at the office?
On the Small Business Radio Show this week, Jaime Lizotte, the HR and Tax Compliance Solutions Manager at ComplyRight talks about what is permitted and what can be limited at your small business when it comes to discussing politics.
Talking Politics in the Office
Jaime says that the First Amendment allows freedom of speech in the workplace, but small business owners are entitled to limit this freedom of expression in their own workplace. She says that you have an obligation to take measurements to make sure all employees feel safe and productive. As a result, employers can ban any political expression at their company and even penalize employees that still engage in it.
In reality, most small business owners strike a balance allowing some limited discussions. Jaime suggests giving your staff permission to excuse themselves from any conversation that makes them uncomfortable. Employers can tell their staff to keep their strong opinions to themselves when it comes to political conversation which can be construed as harassment.
Employers can limit political posters, shirts, buttons and hats in the office or on a video call. According to Jaime, taking a balanced approach is important; you can’t ban one political activity and not another. Limit solicitation, contributions, emails, and texting on company time for political campaigns. Remember, employers can’t ask their employees to donate to a specific cause. This could be perceived as discrimination if the employee doesn’t donate and later they don’t get promoted or a raise.
Jamie recommends having this policy in writing using tools like HR Direct and then have each employee sign off on it.
Many employees are now becoming involved in political protests around the country. Can you terminate an employee for this activity? Jamie says for private companies, it depends on what state the business resides. States like California, New York and Nevada bans employers from retaliating against employees for this. In other states, the rules are less clear. But, in all states, employers are not able to terminate employees for protesting things like work conditions.
Listen to the entire interview so you can formulate a plan for your small business around talking politics in the workplace.
Image: Small Business Radio Show