HR 21 April 2017

How should employers approach political discussion in the workplace?

Theresa May
The upcoming general election is likely to increase political debate amongst small teams

It’s natural for colleagues to talk about current affairs, but how far should political discussion in the workplace go before it begins to threaten morale? Here, employment law and HR director at Peninsula, Alan Price, offers four essential tips for employers.

2017 is shaping up to be a year of political surprises, with the Conservative government announcing a snap general election for 8 June.

The reaction to this announcement has already made political discussion in the workplace nearly inescapable. While it’s perfectly normal for to discuss current, how far should political debate reach? What are an employer’s obligations to keep the office politics free?

(1) Discussing politics in the workplace

While you can’t prevent political discussions at work, it is important to remind employees to be respectful. Political views are a personal matter that are often deeply held and this can lead to discussions turning confrontational and personal.

Employers need to ensure that employees are aware of what is, and isn’t, acceptable to say in the workplace regarding politics to reduce the risk of political discrimination taking place.

A total ban on employees talking about politics is likely to be difficult to uphold, so employers need to be realistic and ensure that any talk is legal and conducive to the workplace.

(2) Politically motivated harassment 

In the current climate, employers need to be alert more than ever to employees harassing colleagues via political beliefs. Brexit has led to the increased risk of harassment against different nationalities.

Political talk can offend others, particularly because comments and opinions on topics like race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion tend to take centre stage in these discussions.

Because these conversations are likely to leak into the workplace, it is important for employers to have in place an anti-harassment policy that communicates the employer’s expectations about appropriate workplace behaviour.

(3) Political symbols in the workplace

The wearing or displaying of political symbols in the workplace should be discouraged as it could have many negative implications on colleagues or customer. For example, if an employee has contact with customers you might want to introduce a policy that the wearing or displaying of all political items is unacceptable.

Such a policy needs to apply equally to all members of staff and be justified by a sound business reason to ensure no unlawful indirect discrimination is taking place.

(4) Expressing views via social media

Individuals are increasingly turning to social media to express their political views, and these posts can become heated and hostile. Employers should consider implementing policies to prevent employees from using workplace social media or the employer’s IT equipment to harass their colleagues or attribute personal political opinions to the employer.

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