In case you didn’t notice, the 2016 presidential election season officially kicks off next Tuesday, when Iowa caucus-goers cast their votes for their favorite Democrat or Republican.
At this point, it’s anyone’s guess who will eventually win their party’s nominations. But this much is for sure: Contentious debate about the upcoming election around the workplace watercooler (and a host of issues associated with it) is only going to intensify in the coming months.
If the back-and-forth on social media today is any indication, HR leaders will want to brace for the worse. (In today’s environment, that means civil political discussions among employees escalating into heated discussions about issues involving race and religion.) But as Cozen O’Connor attorney Michael C. Schmidt recently reminded me, employers need to be careful not to overreact when things seem to be getting out of hand.
Just as employers have the right to ensure that the workplace is safe and productive, Schmidt said, employees similarly have certain rights that need to be appropriately balanced.
Schmidt, vice chair of Cozen O’Connor’s Labor and Employment Department, points out that “many states have some form of a ‘legal activities law,’ which prohibits employers from taking adverse action against an employee because he or she engages in certain types of political-related activities off premises and outside of working time.”
At the same time, he said, employers need to be “mindful of not imposing the company’s particular political views (and, especially, those of the company’s principals) on employees, and suggesting any link—positive or negative—between an employee’s expressed political views and compensation.”
Schmidt added that HR professionals need to “communicate to all employees that company policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and violence in the workplace also extend to political discussion in the workplace.”
The bottom line: Employers would be well advised to tread carefully as they navigate what’s increasingly looking like one of the more volatile election seasons in recent memories.Twitter It!