Employers enforcing a “no political expression ever” policy is not very realistic these days. However, as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up, employers would be wise to make it clear to employees what the expectations are with regard to political speech and expression during work hours, says Dallas attorney Monica Narvaez.
“Instituting a political expression policy has two primary benefits,” says Ms. Narvaez, a labor and employment partner at Estes Thorne & Carr. “First, it educates employees on what is expected of them because, as private sector employees, they do not have complete free speech rights in the workplace. Second, it provides clear, written direction that explains the parameters, or outright limitations, on speech and expression so that if discussions lead to disputes or complaints, the employer has a concrete policy on which to address the situation.”
In addition to traditional “work time” expectations, policies should also address social media discussions that happen both on and off the clock. “For most employers, what an employee posts to social media is not actionable. However, if the employee carries an online political dispute into work the next day or if online speech is weaponized to harass or threaten a co-worker or customer, it most certainly needs to be investigated and addressed under the employer’s policies,” she says.
“The reality is that managers and supervisors will see employee posts. Either because they are ‘friends’ with employees, following employees’ feeds, or a post is brought to their attention. Employers must then walk the fine line between addressing any inappropriate political speech while not violating the employee’s right to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment or discriminating against them because of their beliefs.”
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