It's Trump vs. Hillary on the Job. What's an Employer to Do?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The election cycle is in its final throws and things are getting more heated (and more nasty) than ever. There are leaked tapes and hacked emails, old tax returns and Ken Bone, Facebook rants and in-your-face rants. The Lincoln-Douglas debates this election cycle is not.

It's possible that political discussions in your workplace have moved beyond friendly water cooler talk and into more heated territory. What, if anything, should an employer (and their in-house legal team) do?

Keeping Political Discussions Polite

You're probably within your rights to shut down most on-the-job electoral discussions. Office policies that limit political campaigning and discussions are usually permissible. But fully tamping out political discussion is not always a good idea for your corporate reputation or employee morale. The more mature response would be to ensure that in-office political discourse remains civil.

There are a few ways you can encourage a less-contentious political environment. Jacob Oslick, an attorney at Seyfarth Shaw, recently told Inside Counsel that he advises employers to send out clarifying memos or emails during the peak of the political season. Those notices should include a reminder that the company does not discriminate based on political views, and neither should supervisors or managers. That communication should also remind employees to remain "civil and non-derogatory" and indicate whom workers can contact should they have concerns about office behavior.

Keeping It Neutral

If you do take a stance on in-office politics, it should generally be a neutral one. Firing an employee for his "Hillary for Prison" bumper sticker or "Make America Grope Again" hat isn't illegal in most places, but it doesn't make for good press.

In certain states, including California and New York, it can be illegal to discriminate against workers because of their political activities. And if workers feel like they have been disfavored or retaliated against because of their political beliefs, that could give rise to expensive litigation.

This might be a hostile election, but you want to make sure it doesn't create a hostile work environment.

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