Tis the season for political debates. Unless you’re running a political campaign or consulting group, your employees’ political view can run the gamut. With the potential for heated debates over candidates and the issues they stand for to lead to hurt feelings and, in some cases, claims of harassment and discrimination, a California employer needs to tread cautiously.
Political speech in the workplace can raise a litany of issues that must be handled carefully. Read on for what every employer needs to know…
Regulating Political Speech. The First Amendment does not give employees in private companies the unfettered right to “free speech” in the workplace. While this can be a tricky area, generally speaking, an employer can regulate political speech in the workplace for legitimate business‑related reasons. Discuss these in details with your legal counsel.
Managers Should Stay Neutral. Manager, supervisors, and anyone in a position of authority need to keep their political opinions to themselves. A disgruntled employee may take a supervisor’s seemingly innocuous statement about a political issue and use it as a basis for a claim of discrimination.
Some Accommodation May Be Required. California employers may need to accommodate individuals whose religious practices sometimes intersect with politics.
Speech & Affiliation that Is Protected. As we have discussed in previous posts, some speech is protected (even when its on Facebook.. read more here). For example, under California law, a California employer cannot adopt or enforce any policy that tends to control or direct employees’ political activities or affiliations, and cannot coerce or influence employees to follow or refrain from following any particular political activity by threatening loss of employment.
Time off to Vote. In California, an employee who does not have sufficient time to vote outside of working hours must be allowed to take two hours of paid leave at the start or end of a shift.
Ideally, your corporate culture is one that tolerates a wide range of viewpoints. However, even the most tolerant environment can be a breeding ground for employee strife during the political season. To discuss your employment policies relating to politics, contact experienced business attorney Drew Pomerance today.