If you could not tell from the political commercials, candidate signs on every lawn, and nonstop news coverage, the 2020 election is in full swing. Early voting has started in many states and over 20 million people have already voted. This election, however, seems to be all-consuming and rather controversial. Companies are seeing a surge in issues surrounding morale and productivity as a result of the constant election coverage and there is no indication any of that will end come November 4. In an effort to make the work environment a little less stressful through and after the election, here are five practical tips employers should consider when managing employee relations in regards to the election.
1. Prepare A Policy Addressing Time Off To Vote.
Although mail-in voting has become a popular way to vote this year, many employees may still want to take time away from work to head to the polls. Make sure you have a policy in place that addresses employee requests for time off to vote and apply that policy equally to all employees. Many states have laws regarding leave time to vote so make sure your policies comply with all state and local laws in which you have employees. Employers may wish to consult this Cozen O’Connor alert – Employer Obligations Relating to Employee Voting – for additional information.
2. Communicate A Clear Policy Regarding Politics In The Workplace.
Political discussion during work hours can distract employees from work and even lead to complaints of a hostile work environment. Employers can limit discussion regarding the election in the workplace. Employers looking to implicate such a policy should be sure the policy is clear and is communicated to all employees equally. But be careful not to violate Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects an employee’s right to discuss the work environment and employer policies.
3. Remind Employees About Your EEO Policies.
Being a member of a certain political party is technically not a protected class under federal law. Given the nature of this election season, however, discussion about the election and related protests may lead to complaints of discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, or other protected characteristics. Remind all employees, especially all decision-makers, that no employment decision should be made based on a protected category. Be aware of pitfalls where an employee’s position on a political issue is used as a pretext for discrimination. Remind employees how to use any open-door policy or complaint process you have in place. Encourage employees to speak up if they feel uncomfortable in the workplace (even if they are working remotely).
4. Train Management On De-Escalation And Conflict Management.
Unfortunately, not all employees will abide by employer policies. Remind managers and supervisors on how to defuse tension between employees and identify any resources available to them, such as the human resources department. Employers should consider holding a training session for its supervisors and managers about how to handle tension involving the election or election-adjacent topics.
5. Communicate A Clear Policy Regarding Election Paraphernalia.
Employers should consider having a policy in place that clearly outlines what paraphernalia is and is not acceptable in the workplace. Apply that policy equally to all employees regardless of political leaning. This can include what employees can and cannot show in the background of work-related video calls or what political messages are or are not acceptable on face coverings. Check state and local laws in which you have employees to be sure your policies are in compliance with employee rights.
Your local Cozen O’Connor Labor and Employment attorney can assist with training, drafting policies, preparing employee communications, and any other advice and counseling you may need throughout this election season.