Should Employers Restrict Political Speech at Work?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on July 22, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Are you for Hillary or Trump?

Yeesh, let's step back from that minefield for a moment and consider what it could do for company morale -- and stability. Many companies can be lax about what conduct should and should not be restricted within a workplace environment, including political speech. We all invariably start talking about politics at work, even if we know better. But should we? And more importantly, should employers watch their lax policies? The solution is probably the easiest compromise in the world.

Clearing the Misconceptions

Employees aren't (usually) lawyers, so what you often hear in the halls is "Free Speech! I know my rights!"

Is that so? Few people realize that the whole "free speech" cry is only effective against government restrictions on speech. "Congress shall make no law", etc. etc. Well, that's the theory anyway.

For the most part, employers are within their rights to restrict particular types of conduct with only minor exceptions. And those exceptions generally float over the kinds of exceptions that employees would be somewhat foolish to bring up in casual conversation at the workplace anyway.

NRLA Exempted Topics

These NLRA exempted topics include concerted communications about pay, workplace safety, and other conversations that are work-related.

That is, employers can restrict -- and probably should -- purely political speech at work. Most speech should be limited to work-related aspects of, well ... work.

Practical Matters of It All

Company lawyers walk a fine line and have to strike a fine balance between promoting a healthy and vibrant workplace that doesn't feel like fascist oppression, and one where total anarchy of ideals takes over the place.

But would company lawyers want to actively allow free speech at their workplace anyway? Rather than find laws to promote political speech at work, the safer route is to play it laissez-faire and step into the arena whilst pointing to company policies only after a fight breaks out at the water cooler.

Should companies "allow" political speech and discussions? Just try and stop it!

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