I recently conducted an audio conference about retaliation in the workplace, in which the content was devoted to providing assistance to employers to prevent retaliation claims by employees who exercise their rights under a range of federal employment laws. During the question-and-answer session at the end a participant asked how to respond to a manager who retaliates against employees because of their political party preference.
Political affiliation is not a protected class under federal discrimination legislation. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea for managers to make decisions about employees based upon whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. Some state laws and local legislation prohibit just this kind of discriminatory behavior.
Whether or not you employ people in a location where political affiliation is a protected class, comments and banter around this year’s election have the potential to create a problem. The repeated assertions by an employee that they would never support Hillary Clinton because women are not capable of leading the country could be used to support a discrimination claim or hostile environment charge. It doesn’t take much imagination to think about the kind of racially biased statements that might come up about Barak Obama or negativity about age implied or stated about John McCain.
Constant political commentary with or without negative references could make some employees just plain uncomfortable. The boss who extols the virtues of Ralph Nader at every opportunity is unlikely to have a subordinate respond with statements about their preference for a different candidate.
Talk about political correctness! Yes, talking about political correctness is exactly what you should do. It’s a good time to remind employees what kinds of comments should be avoided in the workplace. Dust off your harassment and discrimination policies and remind all staff members of their content, including consequences for violations. Keep the policies handy and be prepared to remind employees again.
Mark your calendar for reminders right around the time of the Democratic and Republican Party conventions.