Can You Display Political Propaganda at Work?

Beth Dean 04.22.24
Graphic - Blog 2024-04-23 Can You Display Political Propaganda at Work

At some point during the election cycle, you may encounter employees wanting to display political propaganda at work. 

This can range from flags and posters to social media posts and even conversations, and it can create a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere for colleagues with differing viewpoints. So, how do you maintain a respectful workplace while accommodating free speech? 

Laws around displaying political propaganda at work depend on who’s making the rules:

Private Employers: 

The First Amendment’s free speech protections generally apply to government limitations, not private entities. So, private companies can typically restrict political speech in the workplace (see more, and SHRM’s stance). 

Restrictions may include banning political posters, buttons, or any material employees display in their workspaces. Communicate the company’s policy clearly and apply it consistently among all employees.

Likewise, employers are not required to allow political clothing or garb in the workplace. Again, have an official stance in place to help safeguard your company. Specify your expectations in your company handbook’s dress code section and any other sections that apply. 

Exceptions: 

Some states have laws protecting employee political expression off-duty, or prohibiting employers from discriminating based on political affiliation. Be sure to check your state laws. 

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects certain activities, whether the company is unionized or not. While protected concerted activity, which includes discussions about wages and schedules, may involve some political speech, unrelated political activity is not protected. 

Anti-discrimination laws mean you should use caution when disciplining employees for expressing political views. Particularly when those views are connected to protected characteristics like race, religion, or disability. 

Best Practices: 

Restricting political displays can be a good idea to avoid a hostile work environment or disruptions. We recommend a transparent and fair company policy on political activity and propaganda at work.

Business Rights:

Companies can legally support candidates or positions, but they should consider the potential impact on employees, customers, and stakeholders. To start, apply the same policy you have for your employees to your company. If employees can’t display political propaganda in the workplace, neither should your company.

Due to legal and ethical concerns, avoid recommending specific candidates to employees. Be cautious about “captive audience” meetings where employees are forced to listen to political presentations – some states have banned this practice (see more on this topic in our next article). 

Consult with your tax advisor before making political donations using company funds. There may or may not be regulations regarding the amount and whether it’s tax-deductible.

For help navigating the political waters at your company, contact your HR Business Partner at Nextep!

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