ALERT: Workplace Political Chatter & Employee Social Media Activity

Recent events, including those which occurred this month in Washington D.C., have resulted in a renewed level of energy around politically charged rhetoric in workplaces and by employees on social media.

The shift to remote work and the resulting absence of a physical workplace to share these views (e.g. think watercooler) has allowed political opinions and perspectives to spill into instant messages, emails, and personal social media. Unprecedented events, including the Capitol breach, have also led to business leaders presenting their views very publicly, in some cases directed at or in full view of their employees. OperationsInc has seen the resulting impact on workplaces, many of which become ripe for conflict, polarization, and division.

This type of workplace conflict is one many organizations have limited experience handling, so I am offering some very cautious, strategic advice on how to navigate employee communications, feelings, and attitudes in a way that reduces or eliminates conflict while minimizing employer liability.

  1. As it relates to how your employees are expressing their political and social views, it is best to advise, counsel, and recommend how those communications should be voiced vs. mandate that no communication occur. To be clear – telling employees they are forbidden from discussing some of their views (on anything) may cross lines tied to protected speech and create employer liability.
  2. We strongly advise that your organization steer clear of monitoring the PERSONAL social media activity of your employees, unless a complaint is made that employees are using their social media platforms to threaten the well-being of other employees and/or you are directed to do so by the authorities.
  3. Consistent communication of the company’s views or concerns, that is presented live in small group meetings vs. in an email or memo, is the recommended approach to reduce the noise level of politically fueled debates.
  4. Appeal to common sense, pointing out that there are different views and perspectives throughout every office, and that sharing those views openly with co-workers may result in some difference of opinions, negative reactions, and even confrontations, all of which you are committed to avoiding. Employees being connected with one another via social media platforms may result in exposure to views and perspectives that can lead to conflict. As such we advise that you recommend to your teams that they thoughtfully consider connecting / following one another before doing so.
  5. Make it clear that any behavior that could be interpreted as harassment will not be tolerated, focusing on the terms and conditions of your workplace harassment policy along with the process for reporting harassment-related issues and concerns.
  6. Sharing leadership’s views on how the changing political landscape may affect your business is generally fine, even in writing, so long as you do not editorialize, point fingers, or imply judgments.
  7. Finally, practice what you preach.

Businesses who fail to take the recommended precautions outlined above could easily be taken to task for fostering hostile work environments, suppressing what is defined by the NLRB as Concerted Activity, and even possibly for perceived violations to Freedom of Speech and Expression. Left unchecked, the impact may even lead to a deterioration of an organization’s workplace culture and the DNA that has made your organization successful. Proactive and strategic management of these new workplace dynamics is critical.

As always, we invite you to reach out to your OperationsInc consultant for guidance on these issues. We continue to study the landscape and shape and adjust best practices, and we will be here to offer our best advice on how to manage your workplace during these unprecedented times.

Thank you,
David Lewis