I could not escape talking some politics after the recent revelation from Access Hollywood of the Trump video. This election, perhaps like none in recent times, has brought vibrant and divergent issues to the water cooler. The good news is that this controversy should end in 30 days. But when it’s over plenty of other political topics will stir up workplace problems. Here are my tips for dealing with hot topics in the workplace.
Know your Employer Rights
The First Amendment precludes the government from restricting speech. It does not extend into the private sector. Thus, an employer may ask employees to refrain from bringing controversial topics into the workplace that might offend others. A manager is entitled to pull aside an employee who is spewing his view about, for example, immigration reform when it might upset Latinos. A manager is obligated to stop the speech if it crosses into discriminatory tone.
I have never been a fan of people who have an opinion about everything. Three kids and a wife remind me that I don’t know enough to have insight on all topics, and I acknowledge they are correct. There are, however, those people we work with who seem to know it all and want to share their wisdom. Such people might be advised that the best co-workers find a way to respect the opinions of others. Employers should stress that good people welcome multiple perspectives. The best of us recognize that our personal histories shape who we are and what we think. There should be room in the workplace for divergent opinions, provided, of course, that those opinions do not cause or mean harm to others.
Managers should Be Silent on Hot Topics
Managers should never engage in a politically controversial decision. It’s just that simple. If a supervisor picks a side on a hot topic, those who oppose his views may feel disadvantaged and disfavored. Better yet, a supervisor not focused on work sets a terrible example.
A Few Topics that Should be Avoided at Work
Knell or Not Knell. Colin Kapernick made the cover of Time recently. Some find his action deplorable. Others respect his attempt to confront racial tension in America. I will not state my opinion here, but I will share one point. Debating this topic at work will be fodder for a race discrimination claim so leave it out of the workplace.
The Middle East. The most frequent religious accommodation issue we see relates to prayer requests by Muslim employees. Meanwhile, anti-Muslim sentiment appears to be on the rise with a corresponding increase in EEOC religious discrimination claims. I most certainly have a strong view on the Middle East, but, again, I do not need to share them, and I know that some topics are best left out of the workplace.
Pro-Life/Pro-Choice. Only Seinfeld could confront the highly divisive issue of abortion and escape unscathed. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lXjA7lxj_E if you’d like, but don’t watch at work.
I hope you enjoyed this newsletter and hope to see you at my Lunch & Learn on October 20. Please let us know soon if you would like to attend.