How to facilitate or avoid jobsite political talk

Tuesday is Election Day, and a pivotal one with several hotly contested races at the state and national level. 

Protests, social media and political discussions have continued to polarize discussions on important topics, as workers increasingly find themselves engaged in disagreements at work.

Often in political discourse, the goal becomes to win, not to understand nor hear the opposition, according to Alexander Alonso, chief knowledge officer for the Society of Human Resource Management.

For managers, completely ruling out political discussions at work may not be necessary, Alonso said. Reframing discourse to focus on how conversations could impact the workplace could be helpful, he said. 

Instead of eliminating conversations, leadership should reframe employees’ desires for discourse in terms of workplace productivity. 

Discussing elections and politics in the workplace can be tough to avoid. So what are the best ways to facilitate a healthy jobsite around those discussions?

For managers

Fostering an environment of respect and not silencing workers is a good place to start, experts say.

“The political climate is tense, and everyone is talking about it. It’s tempting to let politics take over your conversations at work,” said Kimberley Tyler-Smith, an executive at the career tech platform Resume Worded. 

Keeping in mind that not everyone wants to have that discussion is important. Still, it can be tough to avoid.

“Election politics is a constant topic of conversation in the workplace today, and it is only natural for employees to have polarizing opinions on this matter,” Robert Johnson, founder of woodworking knowledge sharing site Sawinery, told Construction Dive. “You cannot impose a ban on the political discussion because it is human nature to discuss anything happening in this present time, and it is discriminatory to curtail one’s opinion.”

It falls to HR departments to set expectations for acceptable behavior and create respectful, non-partisan conversations when discussing political matters in the work space, Johnson said. When it comes to setting that practice, it’s important the employer communicates expectations and limitations to workers. 

What workers should know

Still, contractors are not obligated to allow political discussions at work under free speech laws. The jobsite is not a public forum; it’s a workplace.

“If you’re a construction worker, then you need to know that your employer has the power to exclude certain political discussions from the workplace,” said James DeZao, an employment lawyer based in Morris County, New Jersey. “People often assume that the First Amendment protects them if they want to talk about politics at work.”

However, DeZao noted, when it comes to matters of employment, such as minimum wage, employers cannot limit onsite speech, as that is relevant to work.

With the country’s political climate as contentious as it is now, DeZao said he would encourage workers to keep political views to themselves, a notion more easily carried off when employers lead by example.

Caroline Colvin contributed to this report.

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