“Sex, Politics and Religion and the Workplace”
As the proverbial wisdom teaches, Sex, Politics and Religion are topics we should refrain from discussing in polite company. Employers may want to consider applying the maxim to the workplace. With a looming Presidential election campaign intensifying, the workplace is likely to be increasingly affected by, and infected with, a multitude of controversial political issues predominating conversations between and among management, employees, clients, customers and vendors, at the water cooler and coffee machine, on the phone and in social media. Employers may be well advised to consider implementing “No Politics at Work” policies which address concerns which may arise in the workplace.
A small sampling of recent headlines and debate topics highlights problems waiting to happen in the workplace. Employees sometimes feel compelled to express their opinions about politics, candidates, and government on a widening gamut of increasingly controversial issues involving in such things as immigration, terrorism, abortion, building a wall, marriage equality, Obama Care, trade deficits, national debt, race relations, military involvement overseas, income inequality, Wall Street, Main Street, student loans, taxes, you name it. These and other hot-button topics are likely to evoke intense emotions in the workplace which may cause reduced productivity, loss of employees and clientele, reduced morale, increased hostility and exposure to employee discrimination and retaliation claims. Employers should be mindful of the potential pitfalls of allowing a workplace environment with unfettered political expression, debate and arguments. So, how can an employer deal with these challenges?
Private sector employers can, in fact, restrict employees from engaging in political debate and expression of political benefits in order to preserve job performance, prevent hostility, and prevent violence, alienation and isolation. Employers can create and implement new Employee Handbook policies so long as the policies are applied to the workforce evenhandedly. A “No Politics at Work” policy or a “No Political Activity” policy can prevent employees from congregating and discussing hot-button topics, wearing political regalia, or engaging in political solicitation and campaigning. Employers can implement employee training sessions to teach employees how to steer clear of controversial topics while encouraging neutral, less emotional conversation. Employers can also provide supervisor training sessions to help equip supervisors with the tools necessary to combat the potential polarization of employees. Political debate and expression in the workplace can lead to increased liability for the employer because these intense conversations often focus on topics involving sex, politics and religion and can easily engender claims by employees of discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims. For example, if an employee who is a member of a protected class is demoted a week after engaging in an combative discussion over politics with a supervisor (which, generally, is not actionable), it is possible the employee may claim he/she was actually a victim of discriminatory or retaliatory wrongful termination because of their status (which, generally, may be actionable) and sue the employer? The employer getting sued may be as inevitable as “death and taxes.”
The infusion of Sex, Politics and Religion is problematic in the workplace. The Schwarzberg & Associates Employment Law Compliance and Defense Group is here to help you weather through a potential political storm. We have extensive experience in developing effective policies, procedures, and proactive responsive measures to deal with these and other workplace issues. Please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Schwarzberg & Associates Employment Law Group: Steve Schwarzberg or Lisa Kohring at (561) 659-3300 to obtain more information about our firm and its various employment law compliance and defense services.