How to Create a Policy to Handle Discussing Politics in the Workplace

Create a Policy to Handle Political Discussion in the Workplace

A considered, compliant policy on talking politics in the workplace could help improve employee engagement and productivity.

When elections come around or breaking news hits, water cooler discussions can become lively and even heated. Focus and customer service can take a nosedive because people are busy expressing themselves and their political opinions. You may find it difficult to quell such discussions for fear of violating employees' First Amendment rights. But there are steps you can take to help manage discussing politics in the workplace.

Create a Policy

Create a clear, concise policy that meets compliance standards. A blanket "no political discussion" policy could run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Political discussions may trigger NLRA rights when they relate to employment issues, such as an increase to the minimum wage. Additionally, enforcing restrictions during non-work hours (such as breaks) or in non-work areas (i.e., break rooms) may violate the NLRA.

The process to create your policy statement starts with researching policy templates offered by organizations such as the Society for Human Resource Management, so that you don't have to start from scratch. Create an introduction that articulates the policy's goal, and be clear on what's prohibited. For example:

The following are prohibited activities:

  • Circulating petitions
  • Counting or recounting votes
  • Conducting or participating in opinion polls
  • Demonstrating
  • Fundraising
  • Soliciting votes or contributions at any time in any work area of a [Business Name] facility
  • All other activities not considered part of the employee's normal duties

You may also consider prohibiting clothing or signs that endorse a political candidate or ballot issue. If political posters, pins and other material that employees display are a concern, employers generally have the right to establish reasonable limits. At a minimum, employers can indicate that any material that violates the company's nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policy or dress code is prohibited. However, any union-related material that expresses a political view or political material that refers to working conditions may be protected by the NLRA.

Employers generally have more latitude to impose reasonable restrictions during work time. Employees, however, may have greater protections when they are off-duty and engaging in lawful activities outside of work. NLRA considerations may come into play here, as well.

Be sure to give your policy the same teeth as other policies and be consistent in enforcement:

Violation of this policy will result in immediate disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment with [Business Name].

Once written, select several employees to review the policy for clarity and make any necessary changes. Do the same with management. Then get your employment attorney's imprimatur.

Implement the Policy

Whether you email your policy or physically hand it out, make sure everyone knows they need to sign to acknowledge that they've received and understood it. Include a second page with spaces for a date and signature along with a printed name. For example:

I acknowledge receipt of and understand the [Business Name] Political Discussions Policy. The policy is effective [Date] until further notice.

This goes in the employees' files. From that point on, include the policy in the employee handbook, which should be handed out during new employee orientation. Ensure everyone knows that if they have questions, they may come to you or a designated person, such as your human resource manager. And once your policy is out, train your supervisors on what the policy means. And then enforce it — consistently.

Be Mindful

Employees do not have the same First Amendment protections inside the workplace as they do outside. In the private sector, employers can generally set practical limitations on political discourse during work hours.

However, some states provide additional protections for employees. For example, employees in California, Colorado, Guam, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, Seattle (Washington), and Madison (Wisconsin) prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for engaging in "political activities", as noted by Blanchard & Walker PLLC.

The other thing to keep in mind is Section 7 of the NLRA, which protects nonunion and union nonsupervisory employees' communications and activities as they relate to wages, hours or conditions of employment inside or outside the workplace as well as after hours. Make certain to differentiate those rights with a statement in your policy.

And remember that while you do have rights as an employer, you don't want to appear unreasonable. Plan to communicate openly with your employees about why discussing politics in the workplace is an issue and what their options are for upholding their personal values at work.

Looking for more on this topic? Please view a webcast: Managing Politics in the Workplace delivered by ADP experts and legal counsel.

This article provides general information, and should not be construed as specific legal, HR, financial, insurance, tax or accounting advice. As with all matters of a legal or human resources nature, you should consult with your own legal counsel and human resources professionals. ADP shall not be liable for any direct, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, punitive or exemplary damages in connection with the use by you or anyone of the information provided herein.