03 Nov 2020
America has just experienced—arguably—the most controversial presidential election in living memory. But arguments are exactly what we want to avoid at work.
Political views have become a greater workplace concern in recent years. The Brexit referendum perhaps being the most notable example of this. The resulting disputes can be damaging to an effective working environment, especially if colleagues get emotional. This can lead to accusations of bullying and even discrimination.
Most people have a political opinion which should be respected. However, if staff are using their politics to undermine managers, then you need to address the issue. Here, we’ll take a look at how to handle talking politics at work.
If political discussions are an issue, your first instinct might be to dismiss some of the individuals involved. If the employee’s behaviour can be related to conduct, you may pursue a disciplinary route. If the issue is serious enough, you can dismiss them on this basis.
But remember, employees can make an unfair dismissal claim if they feel they have grounds to do so. The dismissal will be unfair if the reason is their political opinion or affiliation. To disprove this you’ll have to show there was a fair reason for dismissal. You’ll also need to follow a fair procedure and be reasonable in all circumstances.
Banning political discussion
Of course, you don’t just have to pursue a conduct route. You may, instead, choose to ban all political talk in the workplace. Technically, there’s nothing stopping you from doing this. However, you should approach this carefully.
A ban should apply consistently to all political talk. That means you can’t just ban discussion regarding one particular party or movement. Failure to do this could result in accusations of unfairness or discrimination.
So what’s the best approach?
Create a workplace policy outlining your stance. Remind staff of acceptable conduct at work. Let them know that they have a legal right to hold a political opinion. This legal right does not mean that inappropriate conduct will be tolerated at work. Your policy may also prohibit the employee from sharing view with clients. This can include wearing items that show affiliation to certain political groups.
A ban of this nature could be difficult to enforce. Whether you decide to implement a workplace ban or not, there are options to ensure your rules are followed.
Train employees, or provide a reminder of previous training, about what is and is not acceptable talk in the workplace. This should include a reminder of being considerate of other people’s opinions.
There is no doubt that politics can be one of the most contentious issues of conversation. After any major political event, you should be prepared to tackle this. Take steps to ensure that employees are aware of the behaviour expected of them whilst working. This way, employers can avoid situations of this nature arising.
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