Employees can do what they want on their own time regarding political activities, but your workplace policy should limit certain behaviors while on duty. A clear and fairly applied policy can help avoid not only the loss of productivity, but discrimination and harassment claims as well.
Workplace rules should cover political activities to avoid disruptions that can cause productivity issues and potentially give rise to employees' claims of harassment and discrimination.
Do you have employees who are politically active or outspoken? Problems can arise if employees get overzealous and may spend work time on their cause.
If you have to chastise an employee for this kind of behavior, be sure to discourage the behavior, not the involvement. Explain that the employee can do whatever he or she wants when not on the clock, but that your policy limits that behavior during work time. Do not discourage the employee's activity or choice of causes. You don't want it to seem that you have a personal bias against the employee's cause. It could lead the employee to believe that some kind of discrimination is taking place.
Handling political activity can be especially tricky because, while you can restrict employees' behavior during work time, some employees' off-duty conduct may reflect negatively on your business. Your ability to control those activities is limited, and in fact many conversations are protected by the First Amendment. While you can't prevent an employee from expressing his or her beliefs, you can focus on the fact that your workplace may not be the appropriate forum for such conversations.
Your office accountant Colleen is very active in a local councilman's campaign for reelection. You have seen her on several occasions at other employees' desks engaging them in political debate and trying to convince them to vote for her candidate.
While Colleen's activity may seem harmless enough (especially since she's not asking for contributions), she isn't doing her work and is interfering with the work of other employees. If Colleen were doing this kind of thing on her lunch time or break times, it would be okay, but during work time, you can require that Colleen not engage in political activities.
Continuing with our example, if Colleen persists in hounding people to vote for her candidate after they have requested that she stop, her actions could be construed as harassment. Take action against this behavior.
Therefore, while you need to be careful when addressing an employee's political activities, there are some things that you can do:
- Prohibit any political activities on company premises.
- Do not permit the company name to be used in any political activity without your approval.
- Require employees to ensure that their participation in political activities does not reflect unfavorably on the company.
- Encourage running for public office if time requirements do not interfere with the employee's job and there is no conflict of interest. Suggest that prospective candidates discuss their plans with you to resolve possible conflicts ahead of time.
Creating a policy for political activities in the workplace
If you anticipate that workplace political activity could be a problem for your workers, you might want to consider having a work rule addressing this issue. Some specific examples of political activity clauses follow.
The following clause imposes a prohibition of political activities on company premises.
We encourage all of our employees to take an active interest and participate in political affairs. However, political activities may not be conducted on facility premises. You should not identify yourself as a representative of XYZ Corporation in any political activity, nor in any letter to any news source.
This following clause addresses how political activities can reflect on the business.
Staff members are encouraged to stay well-informed on local, state, and national affairs. Staff members should be sure that their participation in political activities in no way reflects unfavorably on the company.
This next example addresses the prospect of employees running for office and how it may affect their work.
Employees may want to offer themselves for elected or appointed public office. Such activity is encouraged if the time requirements do not interfere with the employee's job and if there is no conflict of interest. Prospective candidates should discuss with XYZ Corporation any plans to qualify for or accept appointments to public office in order to resolve possible conflicts.
You may modify these clauses to suit your needs and incorporate them into your own policy.