Coronavirus: Employer’s resource centre — live guidance available here

How to prevent politics disrupting your workplace.

BY Donald MacKinnon
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

Now that we have 7 weeks of political campaigning ahead of us, we thought it would be useful to look at how politics can be dealt with at work without infringing on an employee’s rights. We look at what you can do to prevent your office becoming a local campaign HQ, and what to do if there is any politically motivated bullying within the workplace.

First, how can you prevent political campaigning in the workplace?

As an employer, you are quite within your rights to stop your staff campaigning whilst at work. Excessive campaigning can cause disruption and fall outs between customers and colleagues. If you ban political campaigning at work and you find someone undertaking non-work activities such as campaigning, you can potentially take disciplinary action. It is important to be aware however, that strong political beliefs are a protected characteristic under the Equality Act but as long as you can demonstrate that they are not being disciplined due to those beliefs this should be deemed a reasonable course of action.

This can also extend to those who are using company equipment for party political business, such as printing leaflets. It is likely that some employees may resist and say that their rights are being infringed but as long as you can prove you are being reasonable and following the correct procedures you would be on pretty firm ground.

The same principles apply for the wearing of political symbols whilst at work. The wearing of badges, t-shirts etc. can be prohibited in the dress code policy and as long as this is consistently and fairly enforced you can be confident in your position. It may be important for many companies that they are not seen to endorse a certain point of view to prevent alienating a certain group of customers so this is particularly applicable to customer facing roles.

Outside work, employers have a lot less influence over the political activities of their employees. If you begin to attempt to control what an employee does away from work, this is when you may run the risk of falling foul of human rights legislation. Your involvement may be justified however if you can prove that the political activities of an employee outside work are bringing the business into disrepute. They may be affiliated with an extreme political party or be members of a football firm that could cause damage to the reputation of the organisation if widely known.

In Scotland, we have had a major vote every year since 2014, so managers are probably used to dealing with discussions and debates within their workforce. Healthy discussion when points of view are exchanged are positive and should be encouraged but when it gets heated or when someone feels victimised it can cause some problems. What some may just think is ‘banter’ can make some feel harassed so you need to make it clear that any such behaviour will not be tolerated and to follow the disciplinary and grievance procedure if required.

© Copyright of Law At Work 2021 Law At Work is part of Marlowe plc’s employee relations division