Can I Talk Politics at Work?

The question shouldn’t be so much, “Can I talk politics in work?” as should you? Political allegiance is often a very personal and subjective relationship. When so deeply held a belief exists, it is understandable that you will want to awaken others to the reality which you hold as absolute truth. However, by doing so, you open yourself to a series of possible repercussions. Freedom of speech has limitations as it pertains to the law and the rules and ethics to which your company adheres.

The “don’t shout fire in a crowded theatre” is often used as an example of when free speech is no longer free. While that is an oversimplified example of how speech can adversely affect a person and the potential to cause injury or death, the question then becomes: What is acceptable to discuss and what is not?

Your employer’s right to veto

When it comes to discussing politics in the workplace, the U.S. Constitution appears to clash with company rules. However, when you look more closely, that is not the case at all. While you are in the workplace, you can discuss how the current or future political climate will impact labor and worker’s rights. In that respect, you can endorse a candidate freely in the workplace so long as the discussion is centered upon your chosen candidate’s ability to move the economy forward through job creation, etc. However, once you start discussing policies that are outside of labor, you are getting into seriously murky water.

Another thing to consider is that you could inadvertently fall foul of harassment laws, due to your passion for a particular candidate or party. What you see as informing your colleagues, could be construed as harassment if the other party does not wish to take part in the conversation. By effectively forcing your views on an unwilling party, you could end up on the wrong end of a harassment lawsuit.

Know your rights

Each state has its own laws on how discrimination or harassment is addressed. In the first instance you should always try to address the issue directly with the other party. Following that, you should involve a supervisor or manager. Explain what it is that makes you uncomfortable about the discussion.

If a colleague or manager attempts to pressure you into voting for their favored candidate, that is classified as harassment, too. Remember, the law is on your side, don’t be afraid to speak out.

Internal politics

“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is an apt idiom for the workplace. It makes absolutely no sense to get into a political debate with your employer. Regardless of who any of you decide to vote for in any given election, it is none of the other person’s business. When you signed your contract of employment, you most likely agreed to act as an ambassador for the business. As such, you are bound under contract not to say or do anything that could compromise the company’s good standing. Discussing an election, regardless of where you lean, is a sure way to fire up contention.

I suspect my employer is discriminating against me due to my political views

If there is reasonable evidence to suggest your employer is discriminating against you solely based on your opposing political views, you may have a case. However, proving discrimination on the part of your employer can be extremely difficult. You should document everything – especially instances where your employer tries to coerce you into voting for a particular candidate. In some states, it is legal for a CEO to effectively discriminate towards potential employees who do not hold the same political alliances.

Even in states where it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of political affiliation, there are still certain exceptions. For instance, if you are actively campaigning for a particular candidate, it could create a conflict of interest. Where a conflict of interest exists, your employer can legally prevent you from promoting your chosen candidate or party. The most important thing you can do is familiarize yourself with your state laws on political discrimination. These laws are notoriously difficult to understand, however, so you may need to seek help from a relevant government agency or labor lawyer.

Hiring a labor lawyer

Before you attend any meeting to discuss your work conduct in relation to political speech, you should ensure that you have sufficient representation. Everything you say throughout the course of a disciplinary investigation can affect the outcome. Your definition of acceptable speech may not agree with the legal definition, which could seriously damage your case. A labor lawyer can provide you with instructions and attend meetings with you, so that you are not held to account for saying things which are taken out of context. You could end up facing punishment that will affect your potential for progression in your chosen career, or lose your job as a result.

A labor lawyer will work with you to build a case to prove you were discussing politics within the letter of the law. Furthermore, a labor lawyer can help ensure you are not further discriminated against for pursuing the matter through legal channels.