If the first few months of 2024 are any indication, this election year will be wildly controversial. With such a divisive set of candidates and issues, it’s inevitable that people will disagree with each other in not-so-civil ways.

When those disagreements make their way into the workplace, employers and HR professionals suffer collateral damage in the form of lost productivity and spent company resources. Of course, people can have polite political discussions, but that can’t always be relied upon. That’s why employers have begun putting political activity policies in place.

What is an employee political activity policy?

An Employee Political Activity Policy is a set of rules and guidelines that an organization establishes to restrict or prohibit employees from participating in political activity in the workplace. Employee Political Activity Policies can benefit employers both legally and economically.

Legally, when employees are permitted to discuss or display political topics or paraphernalia at work, they can be seen to be representing their employer. While employers may not mind that representation occasionally, political statements can easily be interpreted to be discriminatory, particularly when it comes to the more explosive issues. Further, if employers are forced to discipline employees based on their political activities in the workplace, any imbalance in disciplinary practices can be perceived as discriminatory—which invites legal action.

Economically, a harmonious workforce tends to be more productive. By taking politics out of the workplace, employers can remove one of the most divisive hurdles their company faces.

What can (and can not) be included in an Employee Political Activity Policy?

By and large, employers have nearly carte blanche to restrict political activity in the workplace, with a few exceptions:

First, employers may not dictate what employees do on their own time while off company property. Employers may only restrict employee activity if it is done on company time or property, or when employees are otherwise acting or seen to be acting on behalf of the company.

Second, at the federal level, the National Labor Relations Act protects employees’ right to engage in “concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…”

Basically, all employees (except those in supervisory positions) are entitled to communicate about and engage in activities regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment outside of work. Recently, the National Labor Relations Board shifted the way work rules are interpreted to be more employee friendly, meaning employers must take extra care that any policy restricting employee communications does not infringe on their right to act collectively.

Finally, at the state level, there are only a few restrictions about what kind of political activities employers may or may not prohibit. For instance, some states (e.g., California and Missouri) expressly declare that employers may not prohibit employees from serving as an elected official. Some states (e.g., Arizona and Maryland) also specifically prohibit employers from including any kind of political slogans, mottos, arguments, etc. in employee paychecks or pay envelopes.

Penalties for employers who violate these rules can range anywhere from injunctive relief and back pay where applicable, to fines of a few hundred dollars up to $10,000 per violation, or jail time up to a year.

What other regulations should I know about?

One type of regulation gaining popularity—currently enacted in seven states—restricts employers’ ability to require employees to attend employer-sponsored meetings whose primary purpose is to inform or influence employees’ opinions about politics or religion.

Aside from a few state and federal restrictions, employers are largely permitted to control their employees’ political activity in the workplace, including:

  • Restricting disruptive political discussions (this will mainly be up to what employer decides, but will change on a case-by-case basis—use honest best judgement to maintain stress-free environment but maintain employee rights)
  • Prohibiting employees from wearing politically charged clothes or displaying political paraphernalia
  • Prohibiting employees from distributing political materials like pamphlets or newsletters

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of state law restrictions. This is simply an example of the types of legal restrictions employers need to consider. What types of political activity employers choose to restrict will be based on the individual concerns each one faces.

For a complete list of state-by-state employee political activity regulations and restrictions, check out our Politics in the Workplace map.

Explore state-by-state political restrictions

Does my company need a political activity policy?

Employee Political Activity Policies aren’t required by law, and they may not be necessary for every employer, but they can help reduce or avoid political tension in your workplace. Some factors you might want to consider when deciding whether to implement an Employee Political Activity Policy are:

  • Company size: Smaller employers may face fewer instances of political disagreement based simply on the fact that proximity can help employees naturally avoid contentious conversations.
  • Nature of the business: Some industries, like those that may be highly regulated or have significant visibility to customers, might wish to exercise more control over political activity in the workplace for the sake of self-preservation and professionalism. Alternatively, some types of work may require employees to discuss politics, which would preclude a full prohibition on political activity. Though, employers may still wish to implement a less restrictive kind of policy.
  • Employee morale: When taking stock of feedback you’ve received or elicited from your employees, take note of whether political activity is a concern and whether employees would feel more comfortable without politics in the workplace. You should also independently assess whether you think prohibiting political activity in the workplace would improve overall morale. Employee feedback is useful, but employees who feel ostracized by their (possibly minority) political stances may also be hesitant to complain about politics in the workplace.

Create your own employee political activity policy

As November approaches in such a contentious election year, it’s becoming increasingly common for companies to want an Employee Political Activity Policy. Of course, this policy isn’t required anywhere, but it is helpful to maintain decorum in the workplace.

A well-written policy can help you create a harmonious and productive work environment. Thankfully, creating one that’s tailored to your modern workforce is easier than ever with SixFifty.

Create your own Employee Political Activity Policy or schedule a demo with SixFifty today.