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For Some, Politics Has No Place in the Office

U.S. political mascotts

September 21, 2012

With elections looming, it's only natural to talk politics. But don't do it at work or you could end up losing your job.

"If you work in an office, putting everything out there isn't always the wisest decision," Sherry Thomas told The Bottomline on nbcnews.com.

Thomas, a personal and corporate etiquette coach, told NBC News she blew a job interview many years ago by including fundraising work she'd done for a political party on her resume.

Employees can be and have been fired for this reason. According to Forbes, two workers at a large energy company recently were fired for aggressively debating about recent comments that were made by Missouri Rep. Todd Akin. At the time of the incident, the employer had a written policy banning discussion of controversial political topics -- a legitimate rule for private firms.

"Employers can fire for any reason (including political beliefs) and no reason at all, as long as it's not an illegal reason," Nigel Telman, an attorney with Proskauer Rose, told NewsOK.

According to Forbes, during the last presidential election, 25 percent of employers had a written policy concerning political activities, some of which prohibited political talk at work, a Society for Human Resources survey showed. About 5 percent of those said they'd discipline violators. Another 20 percent of respondents had unwritten policies.

Some government workers, however, have more latitude due to greater First Amendment protection. In South Carolina, California, Louisiana and Connecticut, companies can't restrict workplace political activities at all, and in all states, employees may discuss unions without reprisal.

On-the-job political offenses extend beyond conversing. For instance, last year, Megan Geller, a waitress at a Chicago Outback Steakhouse in Pennsylvania wore a Tea Party bracelet to work and was fired after customers complained, according to Forbes. Another mistake is mentioning politics in e-mails and social media posts composed while at work.

Also, in theory, a company could fire a worker for political activity while off the clock except in California, Colorado, New York and North Dakota, whose laws protect such off-duty engagements. Last month, an Arizona-based medical supply manufacturer, Vante Inc., reportedly fired its chief financial officer, Adam Smith, after he posted a YouTube video in which he himself berates a Chick-fil-A worker for the company's anti-gay marriage stance.

Despite the perils, however, statistics showed employees aren't containing their political views. NBC News rpeorted that a March CareerBuilder survey revealed 36 percent of workers openly discuss politics on the job and 43 percent expected to do so this election year. Furthermore, nearly one-quarter of those workers said their discussions had evolved into a heated debate or fight with a co-worker or boss. Ten percent admitted they altered their opinions of a co-worker after discovering their political views.

"Discussions can quickly become ugly," Barbara Pachter, workplace etiquette coach, warned in NewsOK.


Compiled by Doresa Banning

Sources:

"Mum's the word for talking politics at work," newsok.com, September 17, 2012, Paula Burkes

"Talking politics at the office? Check your emotions at the door," bottomline.nbcnews.com, September 21, 2012, Michelle Rafter

"Talking Politics At Work Can Get You Fired," forbes.com, September 4, 2012, Susan Adams

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