This week’s local elections got us talking in the EML office about whether employees have a right to share their own political views at work. Have you ever been in a situation where someone got a little over enthusiastic in expressing his or her political allegiance? Perhaps you’ve witnessed disagreements or confrontation arising from this type of discussion.
The subject prompted us to answer a couple of key questions:
- Would you reveal your own political views at work?
- What should an employer do if they discover an employee sharing extreme political opinions at work?
In this blog we’re going to address the second of these questions. We’ll leave you to ponder the first amongst your team.
A low-key St George’s Day
We’re not sure whether it was the media frenzy surrounding the birth of Prince Louis, but St George’s Day seemed to go under the radar this year. Usually you see retailers flying the flag or eateries promoting themed ‘feast day’ menus, but the flag of St George was nowhere to be seen in our neck of the woods.
Some might say keeping it low key is a positive step. Increasingly, nationalist and right wing organisations are using the flag of St George as a symbol of commitment to their country or political party; perhaps even as a veil for racism.
We think it’s unfortunate that this behaviour causes people to disassociate themselves with our day of national celebration, particularly given that St David’s Day, St Andrew’s Day and St Patrick’s Day provide such cause for merriment in the other UK nations.
Political views become sporting allegiances
What’s interesting as the World Cup 2018 approaches is how public connotations of the flag of St George are likely to change over the coming weeks. When the England football team steps out onto the pitch in Russia the red cross will become a symbol of hope and expectation; a sign of sporting togetherness. The flag will hang from houses, workplaces and retail premises in a show of solidarity and support.
Sharing political views in the workplace
It’s impossible to avoid the strong public feeling around Brexit, extremist organisations and politics in general at the moment. These issues are hot topics of conversation across all communities so it’s inevitable the discussion will enter the workplace. Good-natured political discourse is generally accepted, however allowing employees to express their views at work sets a precedent. Employers must provide clear guidelines to managers and employees around acceptable levels of conduct.
Whilst it’s important to respect other’s opinions, employees who express extreme right wing opinions in the workplace are likely to cause offence, and provoke disagreements and confrontation amongst their peers. This creates scope for discrimination and harassment claims from colleagues of non white-British racial or ethnic origin. It may also damage employee morale and reflect badly on your reputation as an equal opportunities employer.
Even when comments are not directed at an individual, under the Equality Act 2010 any individual can bring a claim of harassment if they feel the comments expressed and heard were offensive, hostile or intimidating. Therefore, employers must take complaints of this nature seriously and ideally conduct a thorough grievance investigation.
Our advice to employers on managing political views in the workplace
Freedom of speech laws that apply to citizens in public do not apply within UK workplaces. It is your responsibility as an employer to provide clear guidelines on whether political discourse is acceptable at work in your employee contracts and handbook. This is the best way to protect the interests of your business and your employees.
Electioneering at work is generally unacceptable. If a colleague pops a party political poster on their desk, you are well within your rights as a manager to ask them to remove it.
Can you fire an employee for expressing political views?
Yes. An employee could potentially be dismissed for expressing political views within the workplace, particularly if their comments cause offence to colleagues who then raise an associated grievance.
Need more answers?
If this blog raises questions in your business, please give us a call for some free, confidential advice. Our HR and employment law specialists can help your organisation to set reasonable policies and minimise the chance of costly disputes with employees. We work with companies of all sizes across a variety of sectors including manufacturing, hospitality, professional services and childcare.