5 Things Employers Should Know about Elections and Employee Rights

With elections right around the corner, we thought we’d take a minute to remind you of what is and isn’t allowed at work during election time.

Are employees able to use work email and phones during non-working hours for non-work-related activities? If so, they may also use them for political activities during non-working hours unless your company has a Politics in the Workplace Policy that specifically prohibits this. Otherwise, political activity can’t be treated differently than other non-work activity.

While you might be tired of the hats, buttons and campaign flags, you must be cautious when establishing any across-the-board bans. Bans must be uniformly applied to everyone within the company, meaning no special exceptions for managers or executives, and employees cannot be restricted from discussing work conditions or participating in any concerted activity protected by the NLRA. So while you may ban the wearing of campaign paraphernalia to work, an employee who wears a candidate’s shirt that says, “Vote for her! She’ll raise the minimum wage!” is protected, as that pertains to work conditions.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) says that employees have the right to engage in “concerted activities for the purpose of … mutual aid or protection.” In other words, employees can engage in political advocacy, arguments and even debates if the issue at hand relates to labor or work conditions. However, they can’t go so far as to ignore their job duties or sacrifice performance, nor can they intimidate or threaten coworkers during these “political discussions.”

As their employer, your purpose is to establish expectations and to maintain a collaborative, positive workplace where employees do not feel intimidated or harassed. Inform employees they may be subject to discipline if there is any conduct that may be considered harassment, such as pressuring a coworker to support one particular candidate or party over another. Consider drafting a Politics in the Workplace Policy to carefully spell out the guidelines.

Does this mean that employees must be provided with time off to vote? Not necessarily. While many states have laws that require employers to provide “reasonable time” or encourage them to provide time off when there’s a conflict with employee work schedules, there is no federal law that requires employers to provide paid or unpaid time off for employees to vote. If your company operates outside of a defined state voting law and employees have work schedules that don’t permit them to vote before or after work, it’s good business practice to accommodate leave requests to allow them to vote.

Conclusion

If you haven’t already, be sure to implement a Politics in the Workplace Policy and be both encouraging and accommodating for employees to vote. For more tips or information, please contact our HR experts at HR@stratus.hr.

Originally published at https://stratus.hr on October 10, 2020.

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