As a follow up to my last post on political discussions in the workplace, I thought it might be helpful to employers to discuss other, material aspects of politics in the workplace – such as campaign posters, flyers, buttons, and clothing.
Given that, as we now know, you can ban (most) political speech in the workplace, most of you will not be surprised that you can ban (most) political paraphernalia in the workplace. There are caveats, of course.
First, you may have a solicitation and distribution policy that would prohibit posters (soliciting political support) in employees’ workspaces, or the distribution of political flyers in working areas. Similarly, your dress code policy may instruct employees that they may not wear clothing with slogans or words (political or otherwise).
But if you decide to implement a specific ban on political paraphernalia, it must be enforced consistently. Otherwise, your employees may assume that management supports a particular political party or philosophy. (This is of particular concern in some states that have laws specifically prohibiting employers from requiring their employees to support the employer’s political views – such as California, New Jersey, Washington and West Virginia). Consistent enforcement will also help employers avoid discrimination claims based on other protected characteristics that may be associated with a particular candidate or party (e.g. minorities or women for Hilary Clinton, older White males for Donald Trump).
In addition, those same considerations about the National Labor Relations Act that I discussed last time hold true here. The Act protects employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity regarding the terms and conditions of employment. This includes wearing buttons or clothing with union insignia. So if an employee wanted to wear a button that references both a union and a political message/cause/candidate – that would be protected under the Act. (E.g. “SEIU for Clinton”).
So, in the end, I use the same guidance I gave before, with a single word change – employers can generally prohibit political paraphernalia in the workplace – but if you do so, make sure you’re being consistent and careful!