In our increasingly polarized country, many organizations are facing pressure from their staff to take sides in political debates or human rights issues, especially within the non-profit sector. If you find your organization forced into an unforeseen political situation, you have variety of ways to handle the situation.
Laws in California and New York make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of an employee’s off duty activity or beliefs outside of work, unless such activity interferes with the functioning of the business. For instance, an employee cannot be fired for merely attending a political rally. However, if that same employee skipped a shift at work and did not inform their manager, you will have grounds to reprimand them. Furthermore, in California, employers are prohibited from making policies that forbids or controls employee’s political activities, which include displaying a campaign sticker, wearing armbands, or criticizing public officials.
While it is legal to restrict political speech in the office, first consider your work place culture and make sure you are making a choice that is best for your organization. What will increase your staff’s engagement? What will build trust in your organization?
The only significant protection surrounding political speech is any speech related to an employee’s office environment and working conditions. If an employee openly supports a candidate they believe would be better qualified to be their union official, that speech is protected by law, National Labor Relations Act.
Employees are continually expecting their employers to align with their ethics and values. Your first opinion might be to avoid any political jeopardy, but doing so might cost you employee engagement, and might build tension between staff. Make sure the values of the business are communicated clearly in your employee manual and be transparent about why your decisions are being made. Legally, you have a lot of room, but always consult legal counsel if you are unsure about any policy.