Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

What to Do About Political Distractions at Your Business

It doesn't matter whether your political leanings tilt toward the left or the right -- we can all agree that we're living and working in a pretty emotionally charged news environment right now and there are no signs of it calming down any time soon. Democrats, Republicans, and everyone else in between (and further out on the political spectrum) are all finding something to shout about, and they're not leaving their opinions at home when they commute to work.

When politics seep into the workplace, your small business can suffer -- from lost productivity to internal strife. So how do you manage political conflict and strong emotions in the office and keep your business on track during times of political struggles? Here are a few answers.

Firing Employees for Political Beliefs

While axing an employee for their opinion on a political issue alone might be a very bad look, it's probably not illegal. First, nearly all employment (especially that at private companies) is at-will, meaning an employee can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. And even though state and federal laws may prohibit employers from firing staff due to retaliatory, discriminatory, or other illegal reasons, terminating an employee for political beliefs (while perhaps not the most popular business decision) is not generally illegal.

Of course, if those political beliefs spill over at work and affect an employee's productivity or create a hostile working environment for other employees, you might not just want to step in -- you might need to. If one employee is harassing a coworker over their political affiliation or, worse, contributing to an unsafe work environment, you're only risking a lawsuit by not firing the harassing employee(s).

Taking Time off for Political Reasons

So what happens when an employee wants to take their political beliefs out of the office, but during work hours? Other than mandated time off to vote, federal law under Title VII and the American with Disabilities Act don't require employers to change schedules or allow an employee to sit out because of their political convictions. However, some state laws may require employers to make reasonable accommodations for a person's political beliefs.

Again, while you may not be legally obligated to give employees time away from work based on political beliefs, it may not be bad for business to permit your staff to freely express themselves or take some time or space when they need it. It can make employees feel more comfortable, and we could all use a little comfort in this crazy political climate.

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