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Politics - Can you keep political discussions out of the workplace?

With 2024 likely to be a General Election year here in the UK, employers might want to think about how a change in government might immediately affect their business operations. For example, will there be a shake-up of workers’ rights and could zero-hours contracts be banned, will there be an end to fire and re-hire practices or will there be changes to statutory pay rates to factor into your financial forecasting.

Employers may also want to think about policies to help protect company culture and values and to prevent squabbles amongst employees with different political views. It is hard to keep local, national and international politics, (don’t forget the US elections in November), out of the workplace, so some guidance for all might be useful.

It is worth bearing in mind that in recent years there has been a growing trend for people to bring their ‘whole self’ to work and this is where grey areas arise for employers. People may outside of the workplace can be very active on social media and express certain opinions and might expect that they can also continue this into the workplace.

Can we create a ‘no politics’ policy in our workplace?

Yes, but before you try to enforce a politics free workplace, you need an official company policy.  This should cover everyone in the business, from the top down and it should also apply to all workers, regardless of whether they are full time, part time, working in the office or remotely.

For a policy to be effective it needs to cover not just discussions during working hours.  You may also want to extend it to cover wearing items to work with political messages, slogans, badges and even displaying support around the office/company vehicles in poster form.  A dress code policy can help to set this out. It should also cover use of the organisation’s resources, expressing views to customers and suppliers, coercive behaviour towards others, mocking the opinions of others or implying an organisation’s support for a particular party or cause.

Can we encourage employees not to get into political discussions?

Yes, and to help do this it is advisable to hold training sessions for all employees which covers the new policy, explain why you have introduced it, discuss what they think about it and give them information and possibly even a script to follow if a co-worker, customer or supplier wants to engage on this subject and they don’t.

Work should be a space where people can just focus on their work without having to get into heavy discussions about a range of subjects, so making it clear that it is ok not to keep trying to engage in certain conversations is helpful to all.

Are we too late to have a politics free workplace?

It is never too late to try, even when you have previously allowed or encouraged political talk in the workplace, however you need to be realistic about whether you will actually succeed.

There will be situations which will test your policy and where employees go too far. In these situations, consider:

What is the political statement being made, how is it being made, is it unauthorised and inconsistent with their role and the overall values of the business or is it being expressed in a violent manner?

Unless it is being done in a violent manner then employers need to consider what action they can take to try and restore harmony.

For example, would it be helpful to speak to the employee to emphasise the need for respecting the views of others and can they be redirected to focus on their role. Some people just get carried away and need reminding what you are trying to achieve.

Outside of the workplace employers are limited on the control they can exert over their employees’ political beliefs and can typically only act if their action brings the employer into disrepute.

A review of your policies will in the first instance will help to provide clarity in this situation and taking legal advice before you take any action against an employee is advisable.