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Effective and Legal Ways to Avoid Political Unrest in the Workplace — Q&A Session

In our post-webinar Q&A Session, Jaime Lizotte, HR Solutions Manager and Shanna Wall, Compliance Attorney, answer the most important questions about the effective and legal ways to avoid political unrest in the workplace.

Watch this free HR webinar on demand.


Question: If an employee complains of harassment, am I required to keep the complaint confidential?

Answer: When it comes to keeping things confidential, you can’t ever promise complete confidentiality, because it’s just not feasible. There is no way you can guarantee complete confidentiality. If it’s a complaint that must be investigated, whether you have witness interviews, then you can’t maintain strict confidentiality. Explain to your employees that your investigation will require you to release information on a need-to-know basis and you’ll keep it as confidential as you can, but sometimes you can’t keep it completely confidential.

Question: We have a large Hispanic population at my office, and break room talk has recently turned to subjects such as the proposed wall and deportation. It’s making some employees uncomfortable. How would you handle it?

Answer: It’s a tough one, to be honest, because it’s normal for employees to talk about current events and politics with each other. Employees spend so much time at the office with their coworkers that they’re going to talk about things that they’re passionate about; things that concern them. Have the manager who’s in charge of those employees start to monitor those conversations and see if things are getting out of hand or are cause for concern. It’s also good to have manager/employee diversity training to help your employees and managers understand what they need to allude to in the office as well as issues coming up that are highly sensitive. They want to make sure they understand that it’s going to be a mix of very different opinions coming from everyone. Encourage your managers to lead by example. Remind employees that, if a conversation is making them uncomfortable, they have opportunities to remove themselves from that conversation, change the subject, and there’s a ton of different ways that they can stop that conversation from going any further or actually getting out of hand.

Question: There are a lot of anti-Trump conversations in my office, but one of my employees is a supporter of the president. How can I help him not feel isolated?

Answer: Many employees feel very comfortable making negative comments about the new administration because they think that everyone agrees with them. However, they have to understand that everyone may not agree with them, and they can’t make comments to show that they don’t disagree, so it makes employees think that they can continue to make comments. They need to understand that some people may not feel comfortable sharing their opinions. There’s always negative comments being made about a specific candidate they’re not going to feel comfortable talking about, so those who voted for Trump feel like they’re in a minority right now or feel that they can’t respond or don’t want to respond to create a ruckus. Some are so passionate that they want to. But in this case, simply ask the employees to limit any political discussions while they’re working; unless you notice these conversations while they’re off the clock. It really is up to you to decide not to have political conversations and not to allow political conversations in your workplace. Let your employees know you have an open-door policy, so if they have any concerns they can bring them to you. If you do see that political discussions are hindering productivity, then you really want to address it at that point, and it’s important to try to minimize them during working hours. Here’s where you want to implement the policy about them to make sure that your employees are going to be following the policy and the rules and regulations that you put forth because the most important thing when they’re working at your office is to get the work done, and if conversations are hindering that, then it’s your obligation to make sure you stop that as an employer.

Question: Would there be any liability for one employee who’s constantly reminding people to go vote, claiming it’s your duty to vote and badgering people right up to the Election Day to say something or implement a policy?

Answer: This is an interesting question because it’s not necessarily going to fall into your illegal harassment and discrimination because you might not be touching on some of those protected classes unless their political affiliation is a protected class, but you have the right to set policies that are going to help prevent and in this situation this is almost like a bullying situation and an intimidating type of situation. When I was discussing policies, I wasn’t just discussing your political activities policies or your anti-harassment discrimination policies, but we also touched upon social media policies we also touched upon personal use of your own devices at work.

Here’s another policy that may need to be established: one on workplace bullying and intimidation. These are things that you don’t have to allow in your workplace, and you do have the right to curb those. You may not have a policy in place, but if it’s an issue, then you should put a policy in place. If you already have something similar to that policy-wise, then enforce the policies and make sure that your employees know that this is not acceptable. As far as liabilities, you have that duty to create a hostile-free work environment. I don’t know if that would necessarily bring a lawsuit, but it could, especially if that touches on those protected classes. You want to step in and do something about it if it’s causing problems in the workplace.

Question: If we don’t have a policy right now, and situations are happening, is it okay to implement the policy or is there a legal ramification behind that?

Answer: It’s always best to have a policy in place, regardless of when you implement it. You could implement it before something happens; you could implement it after something happens. Either way, as an employer, you can put a policy in place at any time. It’s always best to have a policy on various topics that could impose a lawsuit for you as an employer. It would be fine to implement a political expression policy like Shanna went over in the webinar if you feel like there may be conversation going on. Or maybe they’re not, but you hear of other conversations and issues happening at other companies and you don’t want that to happen at yours. As the employer, you are able to implement the policy, and it is best practice just to in case. Implement these policies, which we recommend, and make sure they’re legally compliant. There are several laws you have to comply with: federal, state, local and the National Relations Labor Act. So any policies that you are thinking of implementing make sure they’re legally compliant. If you have to have an attorney review them, please go that extra mile.

Dealing with harassment at work can be a tricky and complex situation. Dig deeper and learn how to prevent and respond to harassment complaints.

Learn more about Harassment Prevention Training for Managers and Supervisors.

Ashley Kaplan, Esq.
Presented by: Ashley Kaplan, Esq.,
Senior Employment Law Attorney
A record number of state and local employment laws were passed in 2018, and many more are pending. With each new law that passes, employers must struggle to understand and comply with ever-increasing obligations.

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