Can You Ban Employees from Discussing Politics in the Workplace?

With political tension about to be more prominent as elections draw near, what are your employer limits for restricting political activity at work?



November elections are right around the corner, which means you can expect an uptick of political discussions to seep into the workplace soon.

As a manager, how can you maintain positive morale with employees discussing politics in the workplace? And what are the rules for implementing and enforcing restrictions for politics at work? 

To minimize tension, here are five guidelines to enforce when employees are talking politics at work.  

Rules for Politics at Work 

Encourage respectful communication in political conversations

While the First Amendment allows free speech, it does not mean employees have the right to talk about whatever they would like, however they would like, while on the job.

When discussing politics at work, ensure differing views are discussed respectfully and are free from derogatory language, personal attacks, or offensive comments. Personal boundaries, opinions, and even political beliefs should always be respected, with no pressure or feelings of proselytizing. 

When employees discuss politics, they should avoid extremely divisive or controversial political topics that may create unnecessary tension or discomfort in the workplace. Remind employees to display mutual respect and to have civil discussions rather than political debates.

Despite any variance in political views, employees should avoid political polarization, regardless of their own beliefs, affiliations, or backgrounds. Nobody should walk away feeling harassed or discriminated against in a political conversation. 

Know your limits on employee restrictions

The NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) says employers cannot restrict employees from participating in any concerted activity. How does that translate into political discussions at work?  

Let’s say your company bans employees from wearing campaign paraphernalia at the office. One day, an employee wears a candidate’s shirt that says, “Vote for her! She’ll raise the minimum wage!” Because this statement pertains to workplace conditions, the employee may be allowed to wear the shirt, despite your company’s campaign paraphernalia restriction. 

Be cautious when establishing any bans

If your company prohibits the use of company property for any political activity and/or distribution of campaign materials, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Does your company allow employees to use email and phones during non-working hours for non-work-related activities? If so, then they may also use them to talk about politics or engage in other political activities during non-working hours.  

  • Are employees allowed to leave fundraiser flyers in the breakroom for their child’s little league team? Then they must also be able to leave behind flyers with political ideology.  

Political activity cannot be treated differently than other non-work activity. 

Any rules must be uniformly applied to everyone within the company

If your company has a set time limit for a political discussion to prevent it from dragging on and impacting work productivity, all team members must adhere to that set time limit. When there are designated areas or times for political discussions, such as during lunch breaks or in specific meeting rooms, everyone must respect the designated space and time restrictions. 

Nobody, including managers and executives, should receive special exceptions for political workplace rules. This could create potential legal concerns.

Consider state laws that may have additional workplace protections

Be sure to check your local and state laws that require additional employee protection for political expression at work. Please contact your certified HR expert for help with navigating the laws applicable to your company. 

Stratus HR Helps You Navigate Political Tension at Work 

Establishing and communicating rules for politics in the workplace helps you create an environment where employees can have respectful political conversations without detriment to the overall work atmosphere. If this sounds out of reach, Stratus HR can help!  

With a team of certified HR experts on staff, we can help you create a Politics in the Workplace Policy, coach you through sensitive situations, guide you on setting up a healthy and positive workplace culture, and help ensure you are compliant with local, state, and federal laws.  

There is no need to do this on your own! Book a free consultation today and our team will contact you shortly. 

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