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Talking Politics at Work?

A month away from a national election, is it OK to discuss politics in the workplace?  Generally, the answer is no.  The country as a whole, and people in many cases, are polarized.  Viewpoints have moved further apart, and emotions are running high.  Even when you think you know someone else’s opinion on a candidate or political issue, you might be surprised to find that they are uncomfortable discussing such things in the workplace.

Employers have a special obligation to keep the peace and make sure people are productive, collaborative and work harmoniously.  Many of us might be surprised to learn that private employers CAN restrict free speech.  A private employer can prohibit certain types of communication in the workplace, and in fact you could get fired for getting fired up about a political matter.  Recently a large energy company fired two people for getting into a heated argument about Rep Akin’s comments.  Their lawyer totally backed them up.  The CFO of a medical supply company was fired after posting a You Tube video of himself berating a Chick-Fil-A employee about their anti-gay policies.  Such firings are legal.   You can be fired for an opinion, and certainly for disruptive behavior.

I have strong feelings about current political issues, and very much have to restrain myself from making political commentary a daily event.  Most employers encourage their employees to exercise their political opinions in direct activity – but in non-working hours.

We all have to find a way to be civil, respectful and productive with our employees and co-workers, no matter how strongly we feel about the election and the issues.