Navigating the Political Season at the Office
Important reminders for keeping the office non-partisan
Who can remember a time when people of different political stripes were so polarized? Entire departments are now “riven in twain,” with formerly congenial employees slinking off to be with their own kind, even choosing different watering holes on Friday afternoons.
Still, employers have businesses to run and restricting political activity is perfectly legal.
While banning political discussion entirely is impractical as well as heavy-handed, some employers are adopting policies to head off issues bound to arise as November approaches. For example, some employers restrict political discussions to certain times and places, while banning political posters, buttons or anything that looks like campaigning for a candidate. It’s a great idea to meet with employees as a group to lay down the ground rules – which should focus heavily on mutual respect – and to let everyone know, should things become uncomfortable, human resources will take complaints seriously and intercede if necessary.
Note that controlling political activity outside the workplace is another matter.
Colorado’s lawful off-duty activities statute prohibits employers from terminating employees who engage in lawful activity on their own time. This would generally include political activity. However, there are exceptions for conflict of interest – real or apparent – or a bona fide occupational qualification.
For example, an off-duty Budweiser beer truck driver could be terminated for parking his truck outside of a restaurant, ordering a Coors and then refusing offers by a Budweiser executive to buy him a Budweiser and stop drinking the competitor’s product. (Yes, this happened.)
While more people are using mail-in ballots, for many, there is simply no substitute for participating in democracy at the voting booth. In Colorado, employers must provide employees up to two hours off with pay if the employee does not have sufficient time between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. in which to vote. While it may seem obvious, Colorado’s statute expressly prohibits employers from discharging employees for voting-related absences.
Note that the rules for public employers are more complex and outside the scope of this brief article.
Election season can be a stressful time. But as with everything else, this too shall pass.