Now is the time to update your workplace political expression policies

Oct 29, 2020
Written by Rose Gundersen, VP of Operations & Retail Services

Conversations and disagreements on politics have generated a multitude of concerns ranging from impacting employees’ ability to get work done to harassment among co-workers. In the cases of Goodyear and Facebook, companies’ actions taken on political expressions have generated publicity concerns.

The conventional human resources recommendation has been to prohibit talking politics at work because it could be disruptive to a positive, harmonious work environment. This year’s cry for social justice, however, has generated much push back to these types of prohibition policies. In fact, a recent “How to Talk Politics at Work” article from the Society of Human Resources Management stated that “such politics, however even-handed they seem, don’t work in a 21st century workplace.”

The author of this new “talk politics” concept offered four rules of engagement to enable tough conversations on race, gender or politics: discuss, don’t debate; abide to rules of civility; create a welcoming environment free of retaliation and judgment; and ensure that company leaders do not push an agenda.

Therefore, updating such policies while giving regards to new social attitudes and current laws are imperative to your relationships with employees and customers. The Lane Powell law firm’s “A New Guide for Private Employers Managing Employee Speech in the Workplace” webinar offered last week could not be timelier as our nation is less than a week from Election Day.

Washington Retail believes a few insights and tips from this webinar will help our members navigate this hotly discussed topic.

  • In Oregon, Washington and Alaska, discrimination based on political activity or ideology is prohibited.
  • While private employers may establish policies to limit political speech, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) affords employees the right to free speech during work hours if the subject is related to employment laws or regulations. For example, employees have the right to political discussions and wearing buttons/pins on matters related to minimum wage, workplace safety, fair pay, etc.

Besides reviewing federal and state laws, the webinar offered additional tips to manage political speech in the workplace:

  • Establish policies that prohibit non-work-related political speech
  • Review dress code policies to address the wearing of clothing and memorabilia with political messages.
  • Emphasize to employees that discrimination, harassment or retaliation are prohibited by company policies.
  • Implement all such policies consistently and offer training to management.

Lane Powell is offering additional “Best Practices for Best Employers” webinars in a series that runs through December 17. Please learn more and register for free HERE.