In these divided times, discussing politics on the job can alienate co-workers, cause you to be shunned, or even cost you your job.
There’s an old expression, “never discuss politics or religion in polite company.” Today perhaps “in polite company” should be updated to “at work.”
According to an American Psychological Association survey, American workers are more likely to say they are feeling stressed and cynical because of political discussions at work now than before the 2016 presidential election.
The survey found that 26 percent of full-time and part-time employed adults said they felt tense or stressed out as a result of political discussions at work since the election, an increase from 17 percent in September 2016.
More than one in five said they have felt more cynical and negative during the workday because of political talk at work.
Psychotherapist Dr. Jeanne Safer, who is the host of the podcast I Love You But I Hate Your Politics, says, “Don’t go into a conversation thinking you’re going to change somebody’s mind, because first of all, minds are very difficult to change, and you’re not going to accomplish it. If they do, it’s because they want to change their mind. So, once you get out of the idea of trying to change somebody’s mind, it opens your horizons to have a conversation.”
Although discussing politics on the job can be perilous for any employee, federal employees who are subject to the Hatch Act have added constraints to watch what they say.
The Hatch Act sets limits on the political activities of federal, some state, Washington, D.C., and local government employees. The law ensures federal employees are treated in a nonpartisan manner and their employment is not advanced based on their political affiliations.
Protest slogans like “resistance,” “#resist” and “#resistTrump” are often used by people who are anti-Trump on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Recently the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) sent an email this past November advising federal staff members against using these hashtags, saying they are engaging in “political activity.” The OSC said the memo was in response to requests for information about political expression.
“Advocating for a candidate to be impeached, and thus potentially disqualified from holding federal office, is clearly directed at the failure of that candidate’s campaign for federal office,” the memo said. “Advocating against a candidate’s impeachment is…also considered political activity.”
These restrictions only apply to federal employees while they are on duty or in an agency uniform, not outside of work.
Political discussions can offend others and disrupt the workplace
If you are a federal employee in a management role, you are expected to monitor your employees, and ensure they adhere to regulations like the Hatch Act.
If you oversee other managers and supervisors, remind them to avoid talking about politics especially with subordinates. This not only addresses the Hatch Act, but it can help avoid a potential claim from an employee that he or she is being discriminated against because of their political beliefs.
What if you are a manager accused of harassing someone because of differing political beliefs?
You are held to a higher standard because your responsibilities include maintaining a hostility-free workplace. An employee may claim he feels bullied by coworkers, and you are not shielding him from harassment. Or, that you are the bully!
Political discussions often touch upon “protected classes” that are based on race, national origin, sex, age, or religion. Discussions about immigration, health care reform, gender issues, and more can cross those boundaries.
“The best course of action is to be careful about what you say and to make sure your staff does the same. Even when you do that sometimes misunderstandings can occur, and an employee may file a claim against you. That’s why we recommend federal employees have Federal Employee Professional Liability Insurance,” says Darrell Weber, Vice President, Starr Wright USA.
Article sponsored by Starr Wright USA.
Starr Wright USA, a marketing name for Starr Wright Insurance Agency, Inc. and its affiliate(s). Starr Wright USA is an insurance agency specializing in insurance solutions for federal employees and federal contractors. For more information, visit WrightUSA.com. Starr Wright USA is a division of Starr Insurance Companies, which is a marketing name for the operating insurance and travel assistance companies and subsidiaries of Starr International Company, Inc. and for the investment business of C.V. Starr & Co., Inc.
American Psychological Association