Politics are in the air with both state and federal elections looming in the future. “With today’s increased polarization between the two main political parties, unfortunately, attitudes toward those who believe differently can be quite harsh,” says Roger Carbajal, a Senior Human Resources Specialist. This raises the question:
How much control do employers really have over what employees discuss in the workplace? Individual political beliefs are rooted in each person’s own unique experience and people may take it personally when someone disagrees with these beliefs or espouses different ideas.
The freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies only to actions taken by the government and public sector employers. Private sector employers can limit political discussions during normal work hours and in the workplace but any limitation on political discussions or activity should be done in a written policy in the company’s Employee Handbook.
What employers can do is:
According to NOLO, a publisher of do-it-yourself legal books and software: “Discrimination based on politics happens when an employer makes job decisions because of an employee’s political beliefs, party affiliation, or civic activities. An employer that, for example, refuses to hire applicants who vote Republican, fires anyone who supports gun control, or demotes someone who runs for the local school board is engaged in political discrimination.”
Only a few states prohibit employment discrimination based on political affiliation, but the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects all employees who discuss terms and conditions of employment, including salary. For example, the NLRA protects employee discussions about efforts to increase the minimum wage, etc.
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