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As employers, we know that everything that happens in society affects the workplace. Politics is no exception. People are boycotting Goodyear and buying extra cans of black beans. They have bumper stickers on cars and signs in yards. They buy apparel, hats, and big buttons with favorite candidates, and they wear those in the workplace. What’s an employer to do?

It’s been an exciting and interesting year, and just when we think we have it figured out, election season starts. Political discussions are particularly volatile this year, like most things. Online postings can be downright mean and hateful. We know humans respond in two ways – fight or flight – and it seems like most are choosing to fight.

What is the best practice for a year like 2020? How can employers respond and avoid a fate like Goodyear or worse? The best approach revolves around sticking to your policies. No matter your business or industry, you want your employees to act professionally. Civility must be a shared and enforced company value. Your business isn’t a political hall. Employees should be working instead of discussing or arguing about politics (or anything else for that matter). I always say, “If they have time for loud discussions, they don’t have enough work to do.” Such a taskmaster. Employees need to focus on job-related tasks, and supervisors need to encourage and redirect discussions. That is the job of supervisors and managers – working through others.

What about apparel and buttons? Well, what about it? Do you allow employees to wear their favorite t-shirts without any guidelines? Use your dress code and enforce it. Don’t selectively enforce. Be consistent. If hats with slogans are not allowed, then all hats with slogans shouldn’t be allowed. You may need to revisit your dress code and include items such as buttons, hats, etc. Then, educate your employees and train your managers on handling violations.

What about employees exercising “free speech”? Free speech isn’t about saying anything you want in the workplace. Employees are paid to do a job. Using work as a bully pulpit isn’t in their job description, so there goes the free speech argument. Once again, redirect.

What about lunchroom conversations, which are on “my time”? Lunchtime conversations are not monitored. However, if harassing behavior takes place onsite or offsite and creates a hostile work environment, then that is another story. Make sure that employees and supervisors are trained about recognizing harassment and how to handle situations as they come up. Don’t let situations “fester.” Deal with them immediately.

What’s next? An asteroid? Twin hurricanes? An alien landing? Happy 2020!

Thanks for listening,
Suzanne K. Lemen, SPHR, SCP
CEO Dynamic Corporate Solutions, Inc.