Politics and the Workplace

Jaburg Wilk
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Jaburg Wilk

The general election is looming, and politics are everywhere. Here is a general overview of the laws that apply to private employers to help them navigate this upcoming political season unscathed.

Time off for Voting. While federal law does not mandate employers provide their employees paid time off to vote, Arizona law requires employers to provide up to three consecutive hours at the end or beginning of the employee’s shift. The employee must apply for leave before election day. The employer does not have to provide leave if the polls will be open for three consecutive non-working hours before or after the employee’s shift.

Anti-Harassment Policies. Political talk can lead to highly charged conversations which some employees may consider offensive. This is especially true when the discussions touch on topics such as gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Employers should regularly review their anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies to ensure the polices clearly articulate the employer's expectations about appropriate workplace behavior. The policies should also contain a complaint procedure for employees to report uncomfortable situations. Of course, employers should not gloss over any complaints and promptly investigate all complaints.

NLRA Considerations. Under certain circumstances, an employee’s political advocacy may be considered concerted activity by the National Labor Relations Act. Generally, supporting the election of a political candidate is a pure political matter but if the advocacy pertains to employment-related problems or concerns, it could be protected. Employers should carefully analyze the situation and determine whether the advocacy has a direct nexus to working conditions before prohibiting or disciplining an employee for engaging in political discussions.

Social Media Usage. Employees frequently turn to social media to express their political views. Posts and responses to the posts can quickly become hostile. Employers should consider implementing policies to help prevent employees from using social media or the employer’s IT resources to harass their colleagues or attribute personal political opinions to the employer. However, in doing so, employers must be careful not to restrict or chill employees’ rights under the NLRA.

Dress Codes and Grooming Policies. Companies also have a legitimate interest in promoting certain dress and grooming standards, especially in hospital and retail establishments where there is contact with customers and patients. Employees may be vocal and passionate about topics and may attempt to wear shirts and buttons that reflect their position on these topics. Certain federal and state laws protect employees’ rights to wear union or organizing buttons or insignia. Nevertheless, employers can implement dress code policies prohibiting employees from displaying political buttons and logos, provided it is consistent with other types of non-political speech.

Training and Communication. Keeping all this in mind, election time is prime opportunity for employers to ensure they are communicating and reminding their workforce as to their policies surrounding these topics. Employers may also think about conducting workplace training regarding anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies as well as inclusivity training.

Politics are never an easy topic. And there are several laws that apply to politics in the workplace. Employers should review their handbooks and policies to ensure compliance with both federal and state laws. Consulting with an experienced employment law attorney is also recommended.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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