HR Question of the Week

Question
A client is struggling with how much her staff are talking about the general election. She thinks it’s great that they’re all interested but can see the talk ending up in confrontation. Is there anything she can do to manage this?

Answer
Politics is an issue that can easily cause disagreements amongst staff because political opinions are often deeply held based on long-standing personal beliefs.
Your client can ban employees from talking about politics at work. Any ban needs to apply to all employees and to all talk of politics, not just focusing on one political party or belief. In reality, your client may need to assess how realistic it will be to enforce the ban across the whole of the workforce. In practice, having the ban in place and providing training on appropriate speech at work will usually be sufficient to ensure political talk is kept to a minimum.
Employers cannot put restrictions on political talk outside working hours as all staff have the right to freedom of expression and to a private and family life. Although this is the case, your client may find that political talk that’s occurring outside work is having an effect on relationships and teamwork at work. Again, reminding staff of how their outside conversations can impact on the working day and what personal time may constitute working time, for example, working lunches.
It’s important that your client is also addressing the issues that social media present. Online accounts are useful tools to campaign for political parties or share personal views on political issues such as immigration, the economy, etc. Staff should be reminded that they should not be using social media, whether personal or business accounts, to bring the company’s reputation in to disrepute and they should be advised against linking the business’s name to a certain political party. Giving all staff a gentle reminder that this can be treated as a disciplinary offence should be sufficient.
Your client should be managing political talk at work because an increase in politically-motivated conversations can lead to discrimination issues cropping up. Although it’s a difficult area, some employees may be able to prove that their political beliefs fall under the protected characteristic of ‘philosophical belief’ under the Equality Act whereas some political campaign ideas, i.e. immigration, can lead to conversations having a racial edge and potentially lead to racial harassment.

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