You knew it was only a matter of time and today was the day that you got the call. Two employees in your organization ended up in a heated argument over the upcoming election. You know from experience that their political beliefs are polar opposites and it finally came to a head. What do you do now? Better yet, what could you have done to prevent things from escalating to this point?
First off, employee arguments over any topic are unacceptable if they cross the line into being unprofessional or counterproductive. When those situations occur, they should be addressed based upon the terms of your discipline policy, the severity of the situation, and the history of the employees involved.
What can we do to prevent these situations? Here are some proactive steps organizations should take:
Expect Professionalism: Remind employees of the expectation to work together in a professional manner. Arguments, name calling, or other unprofessional behavior isn’t acceptable for any reason and should result in some type of corrective action when it occurs.
Ban Campaigning: Some aspects of political discourse are protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Campaigning for a specific candidate is not protected and has no place in the workplace. Be clear that this is not allowed.
Limit or Direct Political Conversations: It is acceptable to request that employees limit political discussions in the workplace. If a conversation needs to occur, consider providing a neutral mediator to facilitate the conversation in order to ensure that it is both productive and appropriate.
Encourage Employees to Address Co-workers Directly: If any employee feels that a conversation is too uncomfortable or inappropriate for the workplace, encourage them to speak up. Likewise, once addressed, employees leading the conversation need to, without debate, move on to a new topic.
Emphasize Your Anti-Harassment Policy: Many of today’s hottest political topics such as citizenship status, race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and gender are also legally protected categories in the workplace. Remind your employees that derogatory statements, jokes, harassing or demeaning behavior based on these categories is considered harassment.
A healthy debate in the workplace is a good thing if it results in a better process or improved customer service. Political debates at work are unlikely to accomplish either of those and need to be discouraged and managed appropriately.
How is your organization addressing this? Let us know if you have questions or have a best practice to share. We’d love to hear from you!