With the election less than thirty days away, and the potential for a drawn-out declaration of the winner, political tensions are high. The country is incredibly divided right now and employers likely know all too well that it’s causing disruptions and disagreements among employees. There is a common notion that employees have unfettered first amendment rights to express their political beliefs. But when it comes to workplace expression, this is not accurate. For automotive dealerships, and private employers generally, you have discretion to limit employee political expression. And in fact, it’s in your best interest to do so.
If you have not already done so, now is a good time to revise your dress code. You should advise employees that, though they are free to wear whatever they like on their own time, while at work, political attire is not appropriate. This includes clothing, accessories, buttons and stickers. This policy should extend to social movements as well. Activism is booming right now and while some social movements may claim to be inclusive and have neutral stances on controversial issues, many have discriminatory views in practice or may be interpreted by other employees as having them. The best practice is to prohibit employees from donning any political or social affiliations.
Similarly, ensure your employees understand your social media policy; namely what it permits and what it prohibits. Employees are often under the misconception that their first amendment rights allow them “freedom of speech” on personal social media pages without consequence. However, dealerships should be restricting employees from making inappropriate and derogatory comments on social media regarding individuals’ protected characteristics, like race, gender and sexual orientation. Inflammatory statements related to political or social groups are no different and employees should understand they will face discipline at work for posting such content.
Importantly, its not just your employees who have varied political views; likely, your clients do too. Allowing employees to wear political or social attire and post similar content on social media may have the effect of alienating clients. Especially for car dealerships, who are appealing to a diverse group of customers, with different demographics and different beliefs, remaining neutral will ensure that people with views all over the political spectrum feel welcome at your dealership. Also, for your employees who are in sales, explaining this angle may incentivize them to abide by your policies. There is absolutely a time and a place for voicing one’s political opinions – but your dealership isn’t it.
ABOUT KATHARINE BATISTA
Ms. Batista is an employment & labor attorney who provides businesses with advice and risk mitigation strategies, and zealous representation in litigation. She frequently represents businesses in the hospitality, financial services, automotive dealership, engineering and architecture and healthcare industries. Specifically, Ms. Batista successfully defends employers against claims of discrimination and harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, and wage and hour violations. Ms. Batista also commonly represents her clients in actions involving employee mobility and trade secret theft. Employment and labor law is ever-changing. Employers need to feel secure in how they manage their employees so they can focus on their business. Ms. Batista affords her clients that security.
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