Tag Archives: politics in the workplace

Save the Date! Complimentary Webcast August 19: Race, Religion, and Politics in the Workplace: What Employers Need to Know

In today’s society, discussions about politics, race, and religion will inevitably enter the workplace. How can employers maintain order and respect in the workplace in the face of free speech?

Join Beverly Alfon and Heather Bailey on Wednesday, August 19 at Noon CT as they discuss what employers should be aware of when responding or reacting to these topics in the workplace, how to identify conduct that is severe enough to trigger lawful discipline, and what legal parameters are at play.

NLRB Makes It Easier For Employers to Take Action Against Offensive Employee Conduct – Even in the Course of Protected Activity

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, July 22, 2020

gavel with Labor Law sign

In a decision issued yesterday, General Motors LLC, 369 NLRB No. 12 (2020) , the National Labor Relations Board declared that “[it] will no longer stand in the way of employers’ legal obligation to take prompt and appropriate corrective action to avoid a hostile work environment on the basis of protected characteristics.”

Prior to yesterday’s decision, employees who engaged in obscene, racist, and sexually harassing speech in the course of activity otherwise protected by the NLRA, were protected by various setting-specific standards that provided leeway to employees to engage in such conduct depending on the setting (i.e., encounters with management, postings on social media, and conduct on the picket line). The Board noted that while these standards were put into place to allow for some impulsive behavior in the course of protected activity, they did not require any showing of discrimination or antiunion motivation – “mistakenly assum[ing] discrimination and antiunion motivation by treating union activity as inseparable from related abusive conduct.” The Board specifically recognized the tension between these setting-specific standards and antidiscrimination laws. 

Going forward, the applicable standard for all cases involving offensive or abusive conduct in the course of otherwise-protected activity, regardless of setting, will now be decided under the well-established Wright Line standard. Under Wright Line, the NLRB General Counsel must first prove that the employee’s protected activity was a motivating factor in the discipline. If that burden is met, the employer must then prove it would have taken the same action even in the absence of the protected activity, for example, by showing consistent discipline of other employees who engaged in similar abusive or offensive conduct. 

The Board reasoned that the application of Wright Line in this context will ensure that employees’ Section 7 rights (referring to the section of the Act that gives employees the right to form, join or assist labor organizations, bargain collectively through a representative of their own choosing, and engage in other protected group activity for mutual aid or protection, and to refrain from any or all of these activities) will continue to be protected, while also “honor[ing] the employer’s right to maintain order and respect.” This is undoubtedly a positive decision for employers who are faced with offensive and abusive employee conduct in the course of activity protected by the NLRA.

Want to learn more about how to maintain order and respect in the workplace in the face of political speech and conduct by employees? Check out our upcoming complimentary webcast on Wednesday, August 19th. We will be discussing how to identify conduct that is severe enough to trigger lawful discipline and what legal parameters are at play.

Politics & Election Law in the Workplace: “Are you seriously voting for that candidate?!”

Contributed by Noah A. Frank and Allison Sues, October 7, 2016

With the 2016 general election heating up, discussions about politics and candidates will inevitably enter the workplace. Employers should be aware of several critical legal issues when responding or reacting to politics in the workplace, as well as understanding workers’ rights to engage in the political process.

40593358 - voter registration application for presidential election 2016Imposing a blanket ban on political discussions may run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRA, which applies to private unionized and non-unionized workplaces, protects non-supervisory employees’ discussions about terms and conditions of employment. As such, employers may not prohibit all political discussion in the workplace because some political speech could intersect with work-related matters (e.g., immigration reform, equal pay, or the minimum wage) and therefore may be protected. The same is true for an employer’s ban of political insignia in the workplace. While an employer can prohibit buttons, signs, or clothing bearing pure political speech in the workplace (e.g., “Vote for Candidate X!”), a ban on similar insignia sufficiently connected to employment issues (e.g., “Vote for Candidate X to raise the minimum wage!”) may violate the NLRA.

Political speech in the workplace may also implicate anti-discrimination and harassment protections.

As seen in the most recent election cycle, hot political issues may overlap with an employee’s protected status. For example, impassioned conversations about political platforms related to immigration and terrorism may be deemed discriminatory or harassing to an individual based on race, religion, national origin, or ancestry. Views on abortion could be deemed harassing or discriminatory to employees based on gender or religion.

Employers must be careful that political discourse in the workplace does not create a hostile or discriminatory work environment for other employees or otherwise implicate various equal employment opportunity and civil rights laws.

For public employers, First Amendment protections may be implicated.

The First Amendment prohibits the government’s restriction of free speech. As such, public employers may not terminate or otherwise discipline employees because of their political views or activities.  Many local ordinances similarly protect county, municipal, and other public agency employees’ political speech. That said, it is prohibited for public employees to perform campaign activities on taxpayer time or by using public resources.

On the other hand, private employers are not limited by the First Amendment from banning political discussion in the workplace (subject to the above). But proceed with caution! Some states and local laws (such as D.C., California, and New York) prohibit discrimination based on political affiliation and political activity outside of the workplace. Additionally, some states (like Illinois) prohibit employers from gathering or keeping record of employees’ associations, political activities, publications, communications, or non-employment activities. Similarly, many states (like Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri) protect an employee’s privacy surrounding their off-duty political speech on the internet, including speech on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

Of course, both private and public employers have a legitimate and lawful interest in ensuring that employees are productive and that political discussions or activities do not impede the normal operation of an employer’s business. Policies and rules implemented to address this lawful interest should be neutral without favoring a certain political view.

Private employers may persuade only a “restricted class” of individuals to vote for or against a political candidate.

Federal election laws define this restricted class as “executive or administrative personnel” who receive a salary and have policymaking, managerial, professional, or supervisory responsibilities. However, a corporation may not advocate for a particular candidate or political party in its communications to employees outside of the restricted class, including hourly employees.

In many states, employees have the right to voter leave.

For example, Illinois employees are entitled to two hours of leave when the polls are open to vote. The employee must request the leave at least the day before the election (note: requests made on election day can be denied). The employer may dictate the hours of leave. However, employers must permit a two hour absence during one’s actual work day where an employee’s working hours begin less than two hours after polls open and end less than two hours before the polls close. For example, if the polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., then:

  • An employee working a 16-hour “double” shift from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. would be given two hours of paid leave to vote, at a time chosen by the employer.
  • An employee scheduled to work a 12-hour shift from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. either would need to be (a) released from work by 5:00 p.m. (and paid for the one hour of missed work from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.) to have a two-hour period to vote, or (b) allowed any other two-hour period off work while the polls are open, with pay, to vote.
  • An employee working from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. may be directed to vote after work, and no time after 3:00 p.m. needs to be compensated.

In Missouri employees may take up to three hours of paid leave to vote – but only if the employee actually votes. Wisconsin permits up to three hours of unpaid leave. Like Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin employees must provide notice before Election Day, and the Employer may dictate the time of leave. Unlike its Midwest sisters, Indiana has no specific employment voting leave rights.

It should not surprise readers that California has its own unique provisions. Employees must be granted “enough” leave so that they will actually be able to vote. Fortunately, only two hours of working time taken off needs to be paid. Employees must give at least two working days’ notice. Also, California employers must post a “Time Off to Vote” Notice at least ten days before any state-wide election (failure to post would likely excuse employees from providing the requisite notice of their need for voting leave).

The Bottom Line:

Election law is state (and sometimes county and city) specific.  If the election cycle is creating any sort of workplace tension, employers should revisit conduct standards, anti-harassment / bullying policies, and reporting procedures. Experienced employment counsel may assist with implementing sound policies and practices to help manage workplace issues that may arise during election season.