2019 Look At The Trend Of Political Opinion In The Workplace                                           

Politics stands as one of the most sensitive and widely debated topics all over the world. From simple dinner among families to a business meeting among friends, politics has gained prominence among various social circles and the intensity generated from its discussion leaves many licking the wound of the aftermath. Or is it otherwise? Discussing politics in the workplace have generated a lot of controversies over the course of time. While it is evident that politics affects the atmosphere at the workplace, the question is how and to what extent?

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their political belief or activity. The Act does not define political belief or activity, but decided cases indicate that it refers to beliefs or activities relating to the policies, structure, composition, roles, obligations, purposes or activities of government. Government includes Commonwealth, state and local governments.

Political belief or activity discrimination examples

A council employee in a managerial position did not have his contract renewed because of his involvement with an environmental activist group which had publicly criticised the council’s policies.

At a federal election, a woman who works as a dental technician handed out how to vote cards for a local candidate. Her boss saw her at the polling booth and told her that she should look for another job, as he didn’t want someone of that political persuasion working for him.

A group of people wanted to hire a community hall to conduct a public meeting to protest about a particular government policy. They were refused hire of the hall because the manager of the hall disagreed with their views.

For an employer to understand how to manage political opinions in the workplace and how much it affects the employee relation and functionality, they need to know how their employees feel about holding political talk in their workplace and identify when the discussion is getting too much and when it sets off the wrong impression. Don’t be afraid to hear a conversation, take part BUT also know when things need to stop. 

Fundamentally, employers needs to recognise that under Australian Workplace Legislation, their employees have a right to offer their opinion about political matters anywhere, even in the workplace. What then becomes the concern for an employer is how to manage the discussions and prevent it from becoming a full-blown war among employees that belong to different factions. Hence they can establish a limit.

Employers should draw the curtain on political opinions in the workplace when any of these happen:

  • Results in a division

Whenever employees allow their political opinion to get in the way of their effectiveness in the workplace, it often leads to disunity, and employees often find it hard to corporate with one another. Whenever an employer identifies the lack of harmony between the employees, it is a sign to draw a curtain on the political discussion in the workplace.

  • Ineffectiveness and distraction

Whether your employees find common ground or not on political opinion, it distracts them from the task that they are supposed to be focused on and renders them ineffective. To maintain focus in the workplace, an employer needs to cut down political discussions as much as they can.

  • Physical altercation

This is usually described as the last straw. A physical brawl between employees is the green light for an employer to put a stop to political opinions in the workplace. Political opinions in the workplace can quickly spiral out of control and result in accusations and confrontations between employees.  Not to mention crossing the line for Serious or Gross Misconduct and the consequences of that.

Although an employer should allow a free flow of political opinion in the workplace, the negative effect of such discussion often outweighs the positive effect and it disrupts. To ensure that employees understand not to go overboard, an employer should implement the following when it gets out of hand:

  • Establish a policy concerning political opinion

The employer should seek to clarify which political opinion is acceptable in the workplace and put it into writing. The policy should cover which activities, discussion, and political clothing material is prohibited in the workplace. The employer should be clear on the punishment for harassment, threat, and derogatory comments aimed at other employees. Make sure there is an open door policy and a clear pathway for communication.

  • Work out a complaint procedure

Even with the utmost care, an employer tends to miss some acts of aggression to comes with political opinions in the workplace. To combat this, an employer should implement a legal complaint procedure through which employees can report acts of political harassment or violence in the workplace. Ideally as an employer you will already have policies and procedures in place for most things so check them over and tighten them up. If you are not sure seek the advice of an Employment Relations consultant such as Fresh HR Insights

  • Follow up on every complaint

The decision to discipline bias political opinion in the workplace should be reinforced by an employer with immediate action. Just remember to check the facts, do an investigation, don’t rely on hearsay or take one person word over another. You must ensure at all times you have a well founded basis for any disciplinary action and you also need to ensure procedural fairness. Hot headed environments are no time for you to go off the correct ways to deal with workplace complaints. Always, always get the paper trail too – if it is not written down, it didn’t happen.  

Political opinions in the workplace can be as bad as a rival sports team that can pollute the work atmosphere if it is not adequately contained. Although HR should permit such discussion, they should be fast to curtail any excesses and prevent the situation from deteriorating.

If you are unsure you can consult with the team at Fresh HR Insights – Book in a session with us HERE

Q&A

Can an employer fire or discriminate against an employee based on political beliefs?

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (Act) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of their political opinion. However, the Act also provides that where it is found that the action was taken because of the inherent requirements of the particular position concerned, then it will not be a breach of the applicable unlawful discrimination provisions, such as political opinion. An employer is allowed to deem an employee’s views as being inappropriate if they’re “unauthorised and inconsistent” with the employee’s role or the organisation’s values. This is particularly the case where the public can scrutinise an employee’s comments and then form an adverse impression of the organisation that the employee works at. Read more here 

 

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