During an election year, navigating the shark-infested waters of politics can be tricky. Most rational political discussions have fallen by the wayside in recent years, so if politics happens to find its way into your workplace, it shouldn‘t be surprising if it disturbs the peace and disrupts productivity.
Discussing the latest news topics in the breakroom is nothing new, but the polarizing political climate of 2020 causes emotions and opinions to run hot. There is always the potential for political discussions to escalate and get out of hand, setting the stage for a hostile work environment.
Political expression can hurt others and harm your business. When that happens, it‘s time to step in and get things back under control. Business owners and managers must create proper boundaries regarding political exchanges. And there needs to be a policy in place to deal with situations that could develop when workers discuss politics in your workplace.
Here are some ideas:
Begin with a policy on political discussions and materials
As a private employer, you may set rules to control political talk and politically motivated activities. While it might not be necessary to ban all political discussions completely, you could have a policy that dissuades political debates and prohibits displaying or distributing political materials in the workplace.
You should also have a policy against unlawful harassment and discrimination, something that can happen whenever political topics are brought up.
How do you handle conflicts in the workplace?
There may be conflicts even with a clear policy in place.
For example, suppose a worker complains to you about overhearing a political comment from a neighboring cubicle. Your policy will determine your response: Have you banned all political discussions? Or, are they confined to the break room? Does your policy allow them as long as they remain respectful and non-discriminatory?
If it‘s the latter, tell the employee who reported the comments that it‘s within everyone‘s rights to discuss politics, as long as it stays civil and doesn‘t cross the line into discriminatory remarks.
However, any political conversation that turns into harassment, or worse yet, results in comments on race, sex, religion, age, or national origin should be dealt with immediately, beginning with a thorough investigation. If necessary, hand out a written warning to the offending worker. If the conduct continues, you‘ll need to take additional disciplinary action that could include termination.
Politics will always be a thorny issue
Politics is not usually a good topic for workplace conversation. It‘s very personal, and people tend to hold tight to their beliefs. Employers must have a strategy for ensuring those conversations remain respectful. And that comes in the form of clear company policy.
Do you need more help in creating a positive work environment?
Give us a call! The Resource has been helping employers for 40 years, and our expert staff is ready to assist you any way we can. That‘s why we‘re one of the top employment agencies in North Carolina.