Political Animals in the Workplace
All of us are, by nature, political
animals, according to Aristotle’s
essay on “Politics.” And it’s politics season again, even despite the distance
to the next presidential election.
For HR Managers, it won’t come as a
surprise that employees have political opinions and that they vocalize them on
social media. Many companies today have also taken public positions on
political issues. The perennial question arises: What if an employee posts something
on social media that does not accord with the company? What if an
American-based (nonunion) nonpublic company takes a public stance on ICE’s
immigration raids, and one of its managerial employees disagrees with the
company’s position in a Facebook post? Can the company fire this employee or
ask them to stop speaking against its official position?
Many states and cities have enacted
laws or ordinances prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees for
engaging in political activities or engaging in “lawful conduct outside of
work” or “recreational activities.” A Facebook post may well fall within the
purview of these laws. Thus, before taking any action, you must get a handle on
the laws that apply to your company. Although the First Amendment does not
generally provide protections to employees with respect to their private
employers, they may well be protected under state and local laws.
With respect to conduct occurring at
or in the workplace, an employer certainly has the right to enforce
content-neutral bans on political expression (e.g., code of conduct; dress
code). Such conditions of employment also serve the purpose of preventing
unnecessary hostility and discriminatory behavior that may stem from political
But let’s take
a step back and look at this from a practical standpoint. Discipline of one
employee related to political activity can negatively impact the relationship
between all employees and an employer. It can impact workplace productivity and
may cause polarization among employees. Impacted employees may then go back to
social media to express their dissatisfaction, causing further harm and
A thorny issue, yes, but one we
should be proud to reckon with. For, as Aristotle concluded, human beings
alone, among the animals, can perceive “good and bad and just and unjust . . .
and partnership in these things is what makes a household and a city.”
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