The Election & Harassment

It is hard to ignore this year’s election.  Between comments made by the Republican nominee and the rampant allegations of sexual assault, misconduct, and cover-ups, one might be compelled to find the nearest Sesame Street marathon for a palate cleanser.  Just 19 days to go!

This election is affecting workplaces.  It’s hard to keep it out.  The Access Hollywood tapes, the tweets, and interviews from prominent election surrogates seep in.  These comments and conduct could give rise to harassment claims, whether based on sex or race.  If this conduct was directed at an employee, group of employees, and/or created a hostile work environment, the employer would be required to do something.  Imagine being in HR for a Trump organization these days.

Even if you don’t work for a Trump organization, what should you do when election talk gets into the workplace?  Here are a few tips:

  • Remind everyone of your harassment policy. A policy against workplace harassment is a living document.  It has meaning, it affects every employee and manager, and everyone should understand it.  While one would hope that employees only need to refer to it once at the outset of employment, that’s not the reality.  Employers should remind folks of their policy.  It explains what conduct is prohibited.  Use it.
  • Ask employees to not talk politics. Just like religion, a discussion of politics has never really been a safe discussion topic for the workplace.  This year it’s even worse.  Explain to employees that emotions run high with politics, and it’s best to not talk about it.
  • Do your best to keep opinions to yourself.  Modeling good behavior is important, especially from HR and managers.  If you don’t engage, hopefully employees won’t either.
  • Focus on the work. When we got bogged down with politics at work, the work isn’t getting done.  Refocus employees to getting the work done.
  • Don’t pick sides. Do your best to bite your tongue and apply these tips equally.  While you may be tempted to talk with someone expressing opinions similar to your own, bite your tongue.  All sides should be treated equally.
  • Respect above all. It is really hard to stay out of the fray.  If employees do get into it, they need to remain respectful.  The National Labor Relations Board has taken an interesting stance on respectful workplace policies that doesn’t mean that employers cannot discipline employees when they disparage each other and the disrespectful conduct does not relate to the terms and conditions of employment.

Coincidently (or maybe purposefully), this week, the EEOC announced updates to its Strategic Plan, reinforcing its focus on combating harassment in the workplace.  This past June, the EEOC issued a report on harassment in the workplace.  The report described workplace harassment as an ongoing problem that employers must actively work to combat.  This election gives us a good opportunity to reinforce our prevention efforts.  Take it.


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