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These days, everyone seems to have a strong opinion on something political. And with the Canadian federal election fast approaching in October, water cooler conversations might be starting to take on a political tone. With stakes high, there might be a newfound eagerness to share personal perspectives with the hopes of swaying others.

We can ask employees to keep their politics under wraps, and in an ideal world, politically-charged conversations would happen on personal time and away from the workplace. But in reality, as managers and employers, we can’t control every interaction team members have (nor should we want to!), and political comments often slip into workplace banter.

While we all want to be able to express the values we feel strongly about, what happens when a team member sharing their political beliefs makes others annoyed, uncomfortable or worse? While it can be challenging to know how to best address political drama at work, there are some best-practice guidelines that can help:

Review your policies. It’s easy for a casual comment about topics such as immigration, defence, or foreign affairs to morph into a charged conversation or even perceived harassment based on race, gender, or another protected class. Providing regular training on your bullying and harassment policies is a WorkSafe requirement, and election season is the perfect opportunity for a refresher. After all, your anti-bullying and harassment policies and procedures are only useful if employees know about them! In addition to bullying and harassment policies, procedures and training, it’s also a good idea to spell out expectations by including a separate policy statement on political expression in the workplace.

This way, if tensions escalate, it’s easy to create clarity by pointing to existing policies that employees already understand and follow. For example, if an individual reports feeling harassed or victimized by politically-themed statements made by a co-worker, you’d look to your existing bullying and harassment policies to guide your next steps.

Double check that your policies specify that:

  • Any form of harassment based on a protected class under Canadian Human Rights Law is not okay.
  • You won’t permit threatening, harassing or discriminatory behavior based on another worker’s political beliefs or activities.
  • Political activities should be conducted on personal time, off premises, and shouldn’t inappropriately tie an employee’s personal political views to the organization in any way.

Promote the culture you want. The best defense against election-season tension is a professional and respectful work culture all year round! As with many touchy topics, it’s impossible to overstate the influence of your organizational culture when it comes to navigating differing political viewpoints. Asking team members to keep politics separate from work isn’t about stifling their freedom to express values and beliefs that are important to them. It’s about promoting a psychologically safe, respectful, positive work culture for everybody. That means political discussions can and should be treated like any other conversation in the workplace. The bottom line is that communication at work should be respectful, inclusive and work-appropriate, regardless of whether you’re heading to the polls soon.

Remember your responsibility as an employer. While remaining non-partisan as an employer is important so that everyone feels comfortable at work, encouraging your team members to vote is equally important! Fulfill your end of the bargain as an employer by reminding team members of voting dates, and, if needed, allowing time off to vote.

Your Engaged HR Assignment:

If tensions arise in your organization this election season, are you clear on the best ways to handle the inevitable impacts to teams and culture? If not, now’s the time to review and revise your policies and communicate them outwards!

Navigating the murky waters of political opinions in the workplace can be anything but clear. Not sure where to start with crafting and communicating expectations? We’re happy to help!

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