Employee Political Activity and the Workplace
With 2016 as a presidential election year, employers could likely observe a surge in political activities among their employees. Political conversations around the water cooler can easily erupt into personal confrontations with water coolers being thrown around. Thus, employers need to be especially aware of federal and state laws regarding the ability to limit employee participation in political activities.
Addressing employment treatment with regards to political activities, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) provides employees with the right to engage in concerted activity. Whether or not the NLRA protects employee political activity depends partially on any identified employment concern the employee’s are supporting. For example, a political activity that directly supports a particular political issue, candidate, or party and a specific employment-related concern (i.e. Health Care Reform) may be considered protected. In general, while non-disruptive activities taking place during an employee’s own time and away from the workplace are considered protected, some activities (i.e. those conducted on workplace premises) may be subject to company policy restrictions.
Some guidelines employers may consider include:
- Political activities tied to specific employment-related matters are considered protected (i.e. “Vote for Candidate X, supporter of health care reform in the workplace.”).
- Completely political activities or support (i.e. campaign T-shirts supporting a specific candidate) is not considered protected and may be prohibited by company workplace policies.
- Campaign materials identifying a union’s name or logo generally cannot be prohibited. However, an employer may demonstrate reasonable exceptions (i.e. employee safety in terms of qualified personal protective equipment).
Thus, ensure that your company’s employee handbook policies comply with federal and state laws involving employee political activities (i.e. voting leave). Considering the wide range of interpretations on whether or not certain activities may be protected under the NLRA, look closely at the details of each situation before deciding to apply any disciplinary action against an employee.
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