As we move rapidly towards a general election this December, political views will inevitably surface in workplaces across the UK. With so many differing opinions, beliefs and political affiliations flying about, there’s a possibility that discussion could turn into argument among your employees.
As an employer, it’s important that you maintain a supportive and collaborative team and a positive company culture, especially within a small business. This means not letting politics create divisions or harm working relationships.
You can do this by setting some guidelines around what constitutes acceptable speech and behaviour and taking a zero-tolerance approach to any type of harassment.
Are there any laws about politics in the workplace?
There is no UK law that states employees aren’t allowed to discuss politics in the workplace. However, free speech laws don’t extend to harassment, threats or hate speech, which means that those behaviours are deemed unacceptable and could even be a crime.
Dismissing an employee for these reasons is likely to be fair if disputed at an employment tribunal, as long as a proper investigation was carried out and a full and fair disciplinary process was followed.
Discussing politics in the workplace
Although you may be tempted to completely ban all political talk to avoid any issues, this will likely have a negative effect. If employees feel that their speech is being monitored and controlled, it will create a tense and resentful atmosphere. A total ban is unlikely to work anyway, as staff may continue to have discussions out of earshot.
The opportunity to take part in some political chat could help staff to bond at a different level to their work discussions, as well as encouraging an interest in current affairs and improving their powers of persuasion.
However, be sure to remind your employees to remain respectful of everyone’s views, and to walk away from a conversation if it starts to get heated. It’s a good idea to avoid expressing your own allegiances if possible, and to advise line managers to do the same.
It’s also important that discussions don’t impact on the level of work produced by employees. If you see productivity beginning to dip because staff are too busy debating, be sure to remind them that they’re on company time and the discussion can continue on their lunch break, or after work.
When telling an individual or group to ease up on the chatting, ensure you focus on the element of distraction being the problem, and not their views or beliefs.
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A bit of political chat can be fine, but if an employee tries to attempt a full-blown political campaign in the office complete with posters, that’s when you’ll probably want to draw the line. This behaviour is much more likely to cause arguments and damage relationships between colleagues and perhaps customers.
The wearing of political signs or slogans is also something you’ll likely want to discourage, but make sure you are consistent with your approach. If an employee from one political party is admonished but an individual from another is not, you could be faced with an employment tribunal claim.
Dealing with political harassment in the workplace
The main worry for employers is the possibility of light-hearted political discussion taking a darker turn into potential bullying or harassment. The best way to try and prevent this is to create a policy for your employee handbook which states that this type of behaviour may be treated as misconduct and dealt with through your disciplinary procedure.
Even if comments are made generally and not directed towards a specific person, it can still count as harassment if an individual finds the comments offensive or threatening.
Social media rules for employees
Although you obviously can’t control what an employee chooses to post on their personal social media pages, it’s a good idea to ask them to use caution. Anything that could be construed as offensive, or that threatens your company’s reputation would be best avoided, and could even become a disciplinary issue.
Can an employee be fired for their political views?
In short, no, you shouldn’t dismiss an individual because of their beliefs or what political party they belong to, even if they’re at direct odds with what you believe is morally right.
However, if their beliefs extend to disruptive activities such as trying to recruit others or offensive behaviour towards colleagues, then you may need to begin a disciplinary investigation which could result in a dismissal.
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