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In an article on Human Resource Executive, How should HR handle political talk in the new workplace?, Doug Kauffman, partner in the firm’s Birmingham office and member of the Labor & Employment practice, discusses how employers can handle political talk in the workplace—virtual or in person.
Doug encourages employers to begin preparing now for how they will address potentially contentious and sometimes heated political talk among their workforce, particularly with the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election.
Doug stresses that while employers may be tempted to ban political discussions outright, he advises against doing so. “If you say, ‘You can’t discuss politics in the workplace,’ you’re going to find that hard to enforce, and it’s going to be difficult to single out politics from other personal things,” he says. “It could also be damaging from a public relations standpoint if the company is seen as trying to stifle people from expressing their personal views.”
In the article published on September 3, 2020, Doug also notes that employers shouldn’t fall for employee claims that the First Amendment guarantees them the right to discuss anything—including politics—in the workplace. The constitutional right to free speech applies only to government workplaces, he says, not to the private sector.
Further, with more employees now working remotely than ever before, Doug reminds employers that much like social media often brings out a more argumentative temperament from people, a similar phenomenon can occur among their workforce. “Sometimes, people are more brazen when typing things out because they don’t have to say it to the person’s face,” he says. “At some point, HR has to be ready to say, ‘That’s turned into unwelcome conduct, and it’s just not appropriate for the workplace because it’s too divisive.’ ”
Doug helps employers manage their most valuable assets —their employees. For more than 20 years, he has counseled large and small employers, helping them stay up to date on the law, regulations, and best practices with respect to employment compliance. When issues arise in the workplace, Doug provides real-time solutions. He also handles complaints or audits by various government agencies, such as the EEOC, the Department of Labor, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and he litigates all employment issues in court. Doug is actively advising business clients as they navigate new challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.