A few weeks ago, a reader emailed me and asked if I would weigh in on how businesses should address employees talking about politics at work.
On the one hand, in the private sector, there are no First Amendment Rights. Free speech is a big myth. ( I suppose that the National Labor Relations Act could muddy the waters a bit; but, for this post, let’s pretend it doesn’t). And there’s practically nothing that would prevent a private employer from clamping down on employee discussions about politics at work.
On the other hand, an employer could violate bar rules and condone political speech. However, that could lead to problems for the employer, as in bad press or a lawsuit.
For example, there’s this story from the OC Register about a waiter who supposedly asked four diners for their IDs before they could order. No, we’re not talking about proof of age to order an alcoholic beverage. Rather, according to this Facebook post from one of the patrons, whose parents are immigrants, she and her friends were asked for identification for “proof of residency.”
Whether the waiter was joking is now immaterial because the story has grabbed the headlines internationally. In doing so, this story has created the type of negative publicity for the restaurant from which it takes a while to recover, if at all. Stories like these highlight the slippery slope from political ideology and passionate discussion to racism and xenophobia.
Consequently, employers need to stay ahead of the curve by communicating the risks of political discuss at work. That is, they can easily digress into workplace bullying, or worse, the foundation for a hostile work environment claim. Therefore, tackle this during your next respect in the workplace training. And, if that’s not scheduled for a while, consider a memo or other communication with a link the OC Register story to really bring home the importance of bar rules at work.