According to a survey by Career Builder, more than a third of employees discuss politics at work. When the survey was done in March of this year, 46% anticipated they would discuss the presidential election this year with co-workers. Of those workers who have discussed politics at work, 23% reported they had a heated discussion or fight with a co-worker, boss or someone else higher up in the organization.
In addition to the productivity drain, political conflict in the workplace also has the potential to increase liability risks when you consider some of the topics being debated this election: Exhibit A – What is a “legitimate rape?” Exhibit B: Romney Ad: Obama is waging “A War on Religion.” It is easy to imagine a scenario where an employee is offended and depending on the circumstances points to something that was said during these debates as evidence of harassment or discrimination.
According to a poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2008, only 25% of employers have a written policy addressing political activities in the workplace. An additional 10% reported having an unwritten policy on political activities.
Recognizing that political discussion/debate is going to happen at work and will likely intensify over the coming weeks, employers might consider a company-wide communication that either reminds employees of the existing company policy on political activities at work or discusses more generally the importance of engaging in respectful interactions at work, including in any political discussions. This is also an opportunity to remind employees of how to report workplace concerns and of the policy of non-retaliation.