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General Election: Is It OK to Talk About Politics at Work?

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With the general election announced for 4th July, it’s safe to say the political climate in the UK is fully charged right now. 

When it comes to discussing politics in the workplace, studies show Brits are surprisingly open to a debate, as 67% say they feel comfortable doing so, and 30% of Brits say they will only reveal who they vote for at work in the run up to a general election.

Brits spend an average of 1,866 hours a year at work, so whether your boss likes it or not, conversations by the coffee machine about politics are bound to happen. 

But at what moment is the line crossed, and when does a calm political discussion or voicing of opinion turn into something that could put you at risk and, in some cases, end up costing you your job? 

David Rice, an HR expert at People Managing People explains exactly what rights workers have when it comes to discussing politics at work, and the do’s and don’ts of those political chats. 

What are the risks of talking about politics at work? 

“It depends on your employer. Some employers don’t have guidelines in place on these things and therefore have nothing to enforce. But in general, people should avoid talking about politics in the workplace. 

“The risk is the conversation veering into inappropriate territory where people’s personal views conflict with one another so drastically that they hinder those parties’ ability to have a productive and professional relationship. Best to avoid the topic as much as possible.”

How do you know when a line has been crossed when discussing political views in the office? 

“You can generally tell by the tone of the conversation. When it’s crossed a line, voices raise, it’s difficult to steer it into another topic or keep advancing the conversation, people begin to take things personally and it becomes confrontational or argumentative to the point of being counterproductive. 

“At this point, managers or HR need to get involved and remind everyone of the setting.”

Can you get fired for talking about politics at work? 

“Under the Human Rights Act 1998, everyone has the right to freedom of expression. However, this right is also subject to other prescribed laws which restrict certain conduct.

“For example, under the Public Order Act 1986, a person cannot use “threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, another person harassment, alarm, or distress.” So if your political discussions end up getting quite heated, then you could be crossing a line, and your employer could be within their rights to dismiss you.

“If the discussion is deemed ‘discriminatory’ then you could also be putting yourself at risk.

“Under the Equality Act 2010, you cannot harass or discriminate against employees based on race or nationality. Whether this extends to political opinions or not is somewhat of a blurred line. 

“Generally, this comes down to whether an opinion is deemed as ‘philosophical’, which would mean the person would be protected under workplace discrimination laws.

“However, this protection doesn’t extend to politically motivated acts of violence. Which include rioting, physical harm, or threats of coercion.

“Lastly, if you post something online that is ‘inconsistent’ with your workplace’s values, then you could be dismissed.  

“If you share something online in relation to your political views, it’s important to consider whether your employer could deem the post ‘unauthorised and inconsistent’ with the business’s values. 

“If it is, and if it is also being expressed in a violent way, then your employer could again be within their rights to dismiss you.”  

What should you do if you have opposing views to your teammates?

“Be respectful and recognise that it’s okay to disagree. Everyone’s views are generally shaped by two things; the information they are exposed to and the life experience they have. “You likely can’t change either of those things for that person, but you can present your opposing view in a way that doesn’t belittle them or create a problem between the two of you. At any time, it’s probably advisable to walk away and recognise that your job isn’t to change their minds. If the position they’ve taken is offensive, like saying something racist or xenophobic, that falls under different policies that all companies should have in place where you can take it to HR or a manager to have them communicate to that person what is and isn’t acceptable. 

“Keep the bigger picture in mind and remember that this is a human being you are discussing this with. Be respectful of boundaries. Differences of opinion are what make democracies work.” 

David adds: “Ultimately, if you are going to share your political views at work, or even online on your personal social media channels, it’s a good idea to be aware of the rights your employer has before doing so. 

“Political views can get people very riled up, so even if you didn’t mean to cause any harm initially, a discussion could end up getting very heated and, in some cases, violent, which is very dangerous territory to be in as an employee.

“If you’re concerned that your views might cause a rift with colleagues, it’s probably best to keep your views to yourself, or between friends outside of the workplace.” 

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