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HR News You Need to Know: Politics in the Workplace

By Renée Bucklin

What do you do when you hear an employee say, “John McCain is too old to be president”?

Employers should be careful of the legal risks of arguing about politics in the workplace.  While Federal law doesn’t prohibit companies from discrimination based on political affiliation, there is a greater risk of such comments fueling lawsuits for Title VII (racial discrimination) or ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act).

“Political commentary in the workplace about candidates’ age, sex, religion or age might be used as evidence of a pattern of discrimination” by employees or the employer, according to Laurence Stuart, an attorney with Legge, Farrow, Kimmitt, McGrath & Brown LLP in Houston, TX.  The opening comment might be used to charge an employer with age discrimination.  Similarly, a comment about a woman not being capable of being president could open the door to sexual discrimination.

Managers should be aware of such comments and remind employees to behave in a manner consistent with the organization’s code of conduct.  Personal beliefs about any candidates which could be construed as discriminatory ought not be discussed in the workplace.

For more information about these or other human resources topics influencing your business, contact Renée Bucklin of Bucklin Human & Administrative Resources at 401-885-3569.