With less than two weeks to go until the 2016 Presidential election, political news coverage and opinions are at an all time high. Perhaps they have even trickled into the water cooler talk in your workplace. Although you likely have a few friends at work with whom you feel comfortable expressing your thoughts, not everyone agrees that political talk in the workplace is a banner idea.
Although there are workplace anti-discrimination laws in the United States, whether or not your political opinion is a protected area of employment remains a gray area in many states. The phrase “You’re fired!” made Republican candidate Donald Trump famous, but it is not a phrase that you want to be turned on you at your job.
Blue in ballot box, red in the face
Some private employers specifically prohibit political talk in the workplace. In a survey published by Forbes, 20 percent of employees said their workplace had ‘unwritten’ rules and another five percent sought out discipline for violating rules regarding political office talk. In another local survey, 56 percent of respondents said that political talk in the workplace leads to heated arguments and offended co-workers.
Although you are free to do as you please in your personal time outside of work, what you say on company time is the business of your employer, and they are unlikely to hold themselves liable for your worldview. Often, the problem is not that you have an opinion; it is that political views are deeply personal and co-workers with different beliefs could perceive your expression as creating a discriminatory, disruptive or hostile workplace.
Ask HR for the company’s policy on political talk in the workplace and encourage others to follow along. The best way to avoid conflict stemming from politics in the workplace is to think before you speak. If you believe you have inadvertently offended someone, you should apologize right away.
You still have a right to vote
Employers may be able to restrict political talk in the workplace. However, they cannot prohibit you from doing your civic duty. In fact, employees in the state of Missouri are allowed up to three hours away from the workplace on Election Day for the purpose of voting. Personal requests for time off to vote should be made before Election Day, or the employer can specify voting hours.
If you believe that your employer is not accommodating your right to vote in the state of Missouri or the election season has led to discrimination in the workplace, you may be entitled to whistleblower protection under the law. With a sense of civility to your civic duty, the rancor of the election season doesn’t have to spill into your workplace politics.