THE POLITICAL ACTIVITIES OF WORKING PROFESSIONALS
It’s the elephant in the break room. It’s trending on Twitter, and its presence is “Facebook official,” but employees all across America are still reserved when it comes to discussing politics in the workplace. Behind closed doors, however, each and every day, millions of Americans are talking. Some are even trolling. Accordingly, in this environment, it’s important to consider how our personal, political actions can impact our positions in the office.
Policies on Politics
In City of North Bay Village, 131 LA 275, Officer C__ attended a meeting held by Police Chief Robert Daniels, which was later followed by a memorandum in which Daniels directed staff to “refrain from political campaigning while on duty" and advised against “engaging in behavior while on or off duty that would give the impression to members of the public that the City endorsed their political views.” He clarified that officers who participated in activities as private citizens “needed to advise City residents that their views did not represent those of the City.”
Shortly thereafter, C__ posted a message on the public campaign Facebook page of a mayoral candidate, stating “I work for the City and I will tell you a change is really needed. Thanks for stepping up!!” A copy of the post was forwarded to Daniels and, following an investigation, the City imposed a 72-hour suspension upon C__ for violating policies prohibiting employees from stating or implying that their political views represent the department.
To determine the validity of the discipline, Arbitrator Jeanne Charles Wood looked to the “nexus test,” which requires a showing by the employer that the conduct either: “(1) harms the employer’s business, (2) adversely affects the employee’s ability to perform his or her job, or (3) leads other employees to refuse to work with the offender.”
Noting that residents had previously expressed feelings of intimidation and concern over the police department’s attempt to influence voters, Wood found that the City “established a legitimate government interest in limiting employees’ speech through its policies,” and that it possessed an interest in ensuring “residents do not feel unduly influenced or intimidated when it comes to exercising such a fundamental civil right as voting.”
Wood disagreed with C__’s assertion that the post was not a political statement, finding that it was made on the Facebook page of one mayoral candidate and not others, all posts made prior to C__’s on the page constituted endorsements of the candidate, C__ was a known officer in the City, and the post specifically referenced C__’s position as a City employee.
However, because C__ possessed an unblemished work record during his 20 years of employment with the City, and “there was no showing of intent that is contemplated by such a serious charge as attempting to influence the results of an election,” Wood deemed C__’s violation “an error in judgment,” and reduced the 72-hour suspension to a letter of reprimand.
Cast Your Vote
A review of data provided by Bloomberg BNA's Arbitration Award Navigator shows that 100% of the awards involving employee participation in political activities resulted in mixed prevailing parties.
As the difference between workplace politicking and private participation in politics continues to be a debatable issue in arbitration, the ultimate decision to engage in political activities as a working professional rests in the hands of employees.
But whether you vote yea or nay on this one, knowing the applicable laws and policies is crucial to understanding your rights as both an employee in, and a citizen of this great nation.
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