As the November election draws closer, employers are facing the daunting challenge of keeping peace among employees with differing political affiliations. One approach to this challenge involves simply banning certain types of political expression in the workplace. While this approach can work well if it is done correctly, it can cause significant legal issues if it is not. As with all employment issues, proper planning is the key to success.
One way to start taking political disputes out of the workplace is by prohibiting hats, buttons, clothes and banners supporting specific political parties or candidates. It is perfectly legal for private sector employers in Ohio to prohibit all of these items, despite misguided ideas by some employees that they have First Amendment rights in a private sector workplace.
Private sector employers who decide to prohibit political hats, buttons, clothes and banners should take the following steps:
- Develop a specific, written policy that identifies the items that are prohibited and the consequences for violating the policy;
- Provide the policy to all employees and clearly explain its terms;
- Identify a point person responsible for fielding and addressing reports regarding violations of the policy; and
- Perhaps most importantly, apply the policy consistently, since applying a policy like this inconsistently could lead to claims of discrimination and unfair treatment, and will almost certainly lead to disputes among the impacted employees.
Employers in unionized settings should also determine whether they are required to bargain with their union before implementing the policy. Failing to bargain with a union when required can result in unfair labor practice charges before the National Labor Relations Board.
The key message with a policy of this nature should be that each employee is entitled to support whatever party or candidate they wish to support, but work time is for working, not for campaigning.