On the 25th of May, voters will be asked if they want to repeal article 40.3.3 – known as the eighth amendment. The reaction to this announcement has already made political discussion in the workplace nearly inescapable.

It’s natural for colleagues to talk about current affairs, but how far should political discussion in the workplace go before it begins to threaten morale? Ahead of the referendum Peninsula Ireland’s Legal Director, Alan Hickey offers four essential tips for employers.

(1) Discussing politics in the workplace

Unfortunately, it is difficult to prevent political discussions at work, however, it is important that employers remind employees to be respectful. Political views are a personal matter that is often deeply held and this can lead to discussions turning confrontational and personal. This is particularly the case when it comes to the eighth amendment.

Employers need to ensure that employees are aware of what is, and isn’t, acceptable to say in the workplace regarding politics to reduce the risk of political discrimination taking place.

Some employers may want to apply a total ban on employees talking about politics in the workplace. This could reduce the likelihood of heated discussions arising and maintain a positive working environment. However, employers may find it difficult to enforce such a policy, and disciplining employees for discussing political views may cause further tension. With that in mind, it is advised that employers take a more pragmatic approach and make employees aware that they should be mindful of the sensitivities of others and to ensure that any talk is respectful.

(2) Politically motivated harassment

In the current climate, employers need to be alert more than ever to employees harassing colleagues via political beliefs. For example, it was well-documented in the UK that the Brexit referendum led to the increased harassment against different nationalities.

Political talk can offend others, particularly because comments and opinions on the eighth amendment will often mean that topics like gender and religion take centre stage in these discussions.

Because these conversations are likely to leak into the workplace, it is important for employers to have in place an anti-harassment policy that communicates the employer’s expectations about appropriate workplace behaviour.

(3) Political symbols in the workplace

The wearing or displaying of political symbols in the workplace should be discouraged as it could have many negative implications on colleagues or customer. For example, if an employee has contact with customers you might want to introduce a policy that the wearing or displaying of all political items is unacceptable.

Such a policy needs to apply equally to all members of staff and be justified by a sound business reason to ensure no unlawful indirect discrimination is taking place.

(4) Expressing views via social media

Individuals are increasingly turning to social media to express their personal opinions, and these posts can become heated and hostile. Employers should consider implementing policies to prevent employees from using workplace social media or the employer’s IT equipment to harass their colleagues or attribute personal opinions to their employer.

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