(TNS) — Whether it's a heated cross-cubicle debate about a political issue or candidate or quiet conversation at the water cooler, it's best to leave politics out of the workplace altogether, according to labor and employment attorney Matthew Stefany.
Stefany, with the Allen Norton & Blue law fire in Tampa, said it's a good idea for both employees and employers to know their rights during election cycles to avoid assumptions about what an employer or employee can or cannot do under Florida law.
While some employers offer work time off to allow employees to vote, for example, employers are not obligated under Florida law to do so.
"In Florida, there is no law requiring time off for voting, but the law does prohibit taking personal action against an employee for voting or not voting for a candidate or for a measure on a ballot," Stefany said. "A lot of employers do allow time off for voting, but it's not a requirement." Stefany said he receives a spike in calls from clients during an election cycle regarding political speech in the workplace, especially during presidential election cycles.
"We get questions like what happens if someone comes into the workplace and is campaigning for a candidate and can they discipline them," Stefany said. "We do see that kind of thing and it spikes around this time. In the private sector there is a little more flexibility in dealing with those situations and they can prohibit political speech in the workplace and on work time, as long as it's consistent."
Stefany said it can get confusing between First Amendment rights of free speech, "which can sometimes blend into political speech, but on working time, you can generally prohibit political speech, unless your job requires you to speak about it. Now, if somebody is off the clock or on a meal break, then they probably need to allow it, but if on work time, employers can have a policy that restricts it."
Stefany said it's important that employers have a clear cut policy and that they remain consistent with enforcement.
"You get into the final weeks and days of an election and there are strong opinions and a lot of issues get very personal for people that get pushed to the forefront of conversations," he said. "Issues can arise when workers express opinions that turns into disruptions."
Stefany said it's never a good idea for an employee to use workplace communications to send political information.
"A lot of times, what you see is somebody will send out an email with an article that Joe Biden is doing this or Donald Trump is doing that, or here's why you should vote for this measure," Stefany said. "Generally, an article that supports a political position, employers don't have to allow that if they are consistent about it. They have to be consistent, generally speaking, when employees are at work."
Social media can be another contentious area during the political season between employers and employees.
"Generally, employers shouldn't be monitoring their employees' social media accounts," Stefany said. "That's not advisable for an employer to try and take action unless a post is threatening or violent.
"Most employers have policies, but even those posts have to be a case of an employee identifying himself as an employee of this employer here or there and say they think Donald Trump is the devil," Stefany said.
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