You have most likely engaged in at least one discussion about the presidential election during the past week. It would be a good guess that you have been involved in more than one conversation — even at work. You may even have a sign on your front lawn or bumper sticker on your car supporting McCain, Obama, or a candidate in a local contest.
Yet, political discussions can be problematic at work. And now, it’s the duty of employers to take steps to keep politics out of the workplace and know how to handle political discussions when they occur. I know it’s fun to talk about how much Tina Fey really does look like Sarah Palin but watch out for political humor that can quickly cross the line to unacceptable workplace chatter.
Of course, it would be impossible to eliminate all political images in the workplace. Employees would have to turn off computers so as to never look at commercial sites that have advertising and everyone would have to stop listening to the radio at work in order to avoid coverage of the election. And you would think that one single, simple campaign button that an employee is wearing shouldn’t offend anyone, right?
It’s not that simple.
Political campaign buttons can be banned in the workplace, where employees give up First Amendment rights while they are on the clock. If your company has a no-solicitation policy, it probably includes a reference to campaign items. And if you already allow political buttons, you may be out of compliance with your policy — and unable to enforce it going forward. If March brings a flurry of “Kiss Me I’m Irish” pins on lapels, and if employees proudly broadcast their passion to Save Darfur or even to support non-profit events, you have allowed employees to wear buttons. If you have a policy, it has been violated and can now be challenged.
Absent a written policy, you set one by allowing the buttons.
Buttons and campaign decorations don’t belong at work. They can inflame political conversations and have the potential to bother customers, clients, and vendors. Check your policy, check your practices, and communicate clear guidelines. Restrict the button wearing to the coats that people put on when they leave work.
Now, how do we get employees to be as passionate about work as about these other affiliations?