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Office Politics: What to Do When the Election Comes to Work

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 15, 2015 12:58 PM

It's already started. The 2016 presidential election is more than a year and a half away, but we're already being asked if we're ready for Hillary or willing to pass the hat for Ted Cruz. The election season is upon us and it's not going away anytime soon.

For many people, politicking isn't an after-hours only hobby, but something that pervades their whole life. So what's a GC to do when campaigning leaks into the office?

Make Sure Policies Are Neutral

There's a reason you don't bring up religion or politics in mixed company -- discussing deep-seated beliefs can turn a civil environment uncivil quite quickly, particularly in the charged, contentious atmosphere of presidential campaigns. Office policies that ask employers to limit their campaigning or political discussions are allowed, so long as they are neutral. To avoid charges that you're singling out unpopular or just different political views, make sure all your policies regarding politics at work are neutral -- not just on paper, but in practice.

You Don't Need to Stop the Chatter

Though political discussions can be contentious, they are also important to having informed, involved citizens. Sure, you're not running a civics classroom, but you don't necessarily need a "no politics" policy, either. Civil political talk can be a way for employees to bond, learn more about each other, and engage with each other in new ways. If it's done right. To keep conversations constructive, rather than crazy, advise employees not to assume that their co-workers share their views, to avoid making politics personal, to seek out common ground, and discuss rather than debate.

Avoid Political Retaliation, Discrimination

In most places, it's not illegal to fire an employee for her Palin 2016 bumper sticker, but it's bad press. Some states, including California and New York, make it illegal to discriminate against workers for their political activities. It's possible that political activities on the job could lead to a hostile work environment, though they would have to be severe and pervasive.

Political retaliation and discrimination, outside of government employers, can be more of a morale issue than a legal one. The particularly arise when employees raise campaign funds in the office. Coworkers may feel pressured to support another employee's candidate, even financially -- especially when the person campaigning is a supervisor. Adopting a no-solicitation policy can prevent workers raising funds during office hours and help you to avoid complaints that people are abusing their positions for political fundraising -- though make sure it's not too broad.

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