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Can a business prevent employees from discussing politics?

On Behalf of | Nov 24, 2021 | Employment Discrimination |

These days, employers are finding that the very politically divided country we live in is reflected among their employees – even in Southern California. You may determine that the best thing to do is to prohibit political discussions in the workplace. 

Of course, almost everything seems to be “political” these days, so much a prohibition can be rather limiting. Further, employees might argue that they have a right to free speech – even though the Constitution only addresses only government prohibition of speech.

While you might believe that it’s healthy for employees to have thoughtful discussions of current events, open discussions of politics and controversial issues is likely to lead to conflict, shunning of some employees and lack of respect or outright hostility for those with different views. This can ultimately be highly detrimental to morale and the overall functioning of your workplace. 

So what can you do?

What does California law say?

Unfortunately, California law doesn’t provide much guidance. The California Labor Code states that employers can’t prohibit employees from engaging in political activity. They also can’t require employees to donate to or work for a political candidate or cause or adopt any particular political affiliation.

There’s nothing in the law that specifically says that an employer can’t prohibit employees from discussing politics and other “hot button” issues in the workplace. You just have to be careful in how you do it. 

What makes a fair policy?

Employers can lay out some rules in the interest of workplace harmony, but it’s crucial that they follow a few basic guidelines like the following:

  • Clearly state the policy in your employee handbook and/or other documentation that employees must confirm they’ve been provided.
  • Ensure that all supervisors apply the policy fairly, regardless of how closely an employee’s views may align with their own.
  • Regularly reiterate the policy, and remind employees that the company isn’t preventing anyone from having an opinion — just trying to ensure a pleasant workplace where everyone feels safe and respected.
  • You may also want to include something about other types of political expression in the workplace, such as stickers and t-shirts as well as engaging in political discussions with customers – even if the customer instigates them.

It’s wise to have some legal guidance as you develop your policy. This can help minimize the chances of a legal claim by any employees that they’re being discriminated or retaliated against for their beliefs.