This year’s an election year, which means that politics will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Political ads will be on TV and people will be deciding who they want to vote for. However, with so many people on completely different sides of the political spectrum, conversations about politics can get heated.

Many people dread meeting up with family for the holidays because of the potential political discussions and their fallout. At least with family, it’s possible to walk away and take some time to cool down. That’s not possible at work, however, and talking politics could easily escalate into a full-blown argument.

If your employees are dreading either talking about politics themselves or hearing their coworkers talk about it, that can cause decreased productivity and lower morale. Your staff will also be more stressed out and the quality of their work could decrease.

What can you do to prevent political discussions from getting out of hand?

Know Free Speech Laws

Before instituting any kind of policy, it’s important that you’re familiar with the laws regarding free speech. If your company is affiliated with the government, your employees may have the right to say or wear whatever they want at work, even if it carries a political statement. However, these laws often don’t apply to private businesses, which are free to ban whatever they like on their own premises.

While the First Amendment will always protect free speech, private companies also have free speech. That right can extend to what type of speech employees can express while at work. You’ll need to be familiar with exactly what kinds of speech are protected no matter what. Talk relating to work or labor issues can’t be shut down, for example, even if it pertains to voting for a certain candidate. However, a private company can ask employees to not discuss certain topics in the workplace or to not wear political clothing.

Minimize Political Talk

Banning political discussions in the workplace used to be much easier. But now, the Internet and social media make the once-clear lines between work and home much blurrier. Even if you institute a zero-tolerance policy for political discussions, you may not be able to keep them out of the workplace. Instead of banning them outright, you may want to focus instead on de-escalating any situations that do arise instead.

Your employees should be focusing on their work, not politics. Since political discussions can interfere with productivity and are create a negative atmosphere in the office, you can still acknowledge that politics is on everyone’s minds while minimizing the amount of talk that takes place.

Keep it Civil

No matter how much you try to ban politics in the workplace, people may still talk about them. It’s important to keep an eye on your staff to ensure that everyone is maintaining civility, no matter how different their political beliefs may be. If a discussion occurs that gets heated, focus on de-escalation. The last thing you want is a hostile work environment, as that can lead to poorer work quality and loss of productivity.

The requirement of civility and professionalism can apply to all conversations, not just political ones. Employees should treat each other in a respectful manner at all times. Your company policy doesn’t need to be specific to political discussions. It can, in general, require civil treatment of coworkers and ban clothing that could be offensive to anyone else.

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