Yesterday’s Forbes article “Talking Politics at Work Can Get You Fired” was eye-opening. I’ve long felt that political discussion has its place, and that the workplace isn’t it, but my reasoning was more based on productivity and relationships. For most jobs debating political issues means that you’re not doing your real work assignments, and if the debates become heated, you risk damaging relationships with your colleagues. Those reasons are enough for me to keep my political opinions to myself in the workplace, but if you need more convincing, the risk of being fired ought to be enough to make you zip your lips.
The article gives a number of examples of workers who were fired—lawfully—for bringing politics into the workplace, but one scenario in particular seemed especially relevant to new managers and supervisors.
Two office workers engaged in a heated argument over Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment that was all over the news a couple of weeks ago. The argument, which occurred in front of other employees, almost came to blows.
The company, after consulting an employment lawyer, let both employees go. The lawyer recommended that action, not just because of the disruption the two men caused in the office, but also because “a female employee sensitive about sex discrimination could feel that a supervisor who agreed with Rep. Akin was hostile to women, which could open up the employer to a hostile work environment sex discrimination suit.” [Emphasis added.]
And “legitimate rape” is not the only political issue that could lead to hostile work environment lawsuits down the line. Sharing your opinions about any social issue—and even some nonsocial issues—could come back to bite you. Why risk it?
But even if your workplace political discussions never raised a lawsuit or became heated, there’s yet another reason that as a manager you should keep your opinions to yourself in the workplace. For your team to function well, each member needs to respect your leadership. And it’s really easy to lose that respect. Even if you can back up your calmly stated opinion on health care, for example, with a multitude of well-researched facts, you risk losing the respect of anyone on your team who holds the opposite opinion. Maybe you feel your employees shouldn’t base their respect of your team-leading abilities on your political stances, but that doesn’t mean they won’t.
And when it comes down to it, keeping a job in which you don’t have your team’s respect isn’t much better than being fired.
Learn more about the legal implications of talking politics at work. Sign up for the upcoming audio conference “Politics in the Office: Dos, Don’ts and Employer Rights in Election Years” scheduled for next Thursday, Sept. 13 at 1:30 Eastern Time.
[Image Source: DonkeyHotey]