In the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, our daily lives are bombarded by politics—including its policies, personalities and drama. Satellite communication and broadcasts as well as the Internet serve to bring us up-to-date on the political scene at home and abroad at any given moment. Every new election or proposed legislation brings a flurry of media coverage, activity and discussion, all of which help us formulate our individual opinions about issues and candidates.
But where do governmental politics fit in the workplace? Is it okay to discuss our viewpoints with co-workers? As employees representing our organization, how actively can we participate in politics? And, how can BBNC legally participate?
As a vital part of the community, BBNC encourages its employees to be good citizens by becoming well informed, exchanging ideas and participating in the political process. But there are several things to keep in mind before we try to mix politics with business.
Your Personal Participation
When it comes to politics, you are a citizen first, and an employee second. BBNC urges all of its employees to vote in elections, and to learn about issues that affect the community and our companies. However, your role in politics must remain separate from your role as an employee.
Outside the workplace, you are free to become active in a political party or in other groups with a particular political or social agenda, as long as you keep these activities separate from your work. Pursue them on your own time, as an individual private citizen, not as a representative of our company. For example, if you want to write to an elected official to express an opinion, don’t use company e-mail or stationery. Doing so might leave the impression that you are representing our company on the issue, rather than yourself.
Be aware that in certain circumstances, you may be seen as a representative of BBNC, even if that is not your intention. Consider this situation: Michael is on a committee for a political party, and attends regular meetings. Last month the Committee Chairperson asked about the position of BBNC on a particular issue, hoping we would make a donation. Michael was surprised, since he had never even mentioned where he worked. The Committee Chairperson laughed and pointed out that Michael always wore his BBNC jacket to meetings! They were held at a restaurant in the early evening, and Michael was unwittingly being seen as an employee, not as a private citizen.
Remember that company resources must be used exclusively for company business. BBNC prohibits using company resources, including copier machines, computer systems, email, electronic devices and time, to pursue political activities. Employees are prohibited from managing political campaigns or running for political office while on the job. Posting political signs and holding political meetings on company premises are also not permitted.
Managing Political Discussions
It is inevitable that politics will pop up in lunchtime or casual conversation. But such conversations can sometimes lead to heated disagreements or rifts between employees. At the very least they can distract you from the business tasks at hand. If you choose to discuss political issues with your co-workers, do so outside of work time, and in a way that honors the opinions of others and maintains an environment of professionalism and mutual respect.
Remember that your co-workers are entitled to their own political opinions. While you’re at work, don’t campaign, recruit, or solicit money for a candidate or an issue. You should also refrain from distributing or posting political literature. No matter how harmless or educational they may seem to you, these actions may cause others to feel pressured to agree, or they may introduce conflict into the workplace. Be aware that if the topics touch on religion, sexual orientation or retirement benefits, for example, others may feel they are being discriminated against or harassed. Clients may be alienated if you discuss your political views with them, so be sensitive in those conversations, as well.
Political Action Committees
These days, it takes money to be elected to office, so it’s logical that politicians turn to business for financial support. Some companies maintain Political Action Committees, or PACs, to help raise money for political issues or candidates that could positively impact the business. A PAC allows a company to support candidates with a particular position on key industry issues, such as healthcare or the environment, or to demonstrate to legislators the company’s presence as a community leader in a district or state.
Campaign finance in general, and PACs in particular, have been the target of recent negative publicity. However, PACs are actually closely regulated by the Federal Election Commission. Most important to you as an employee, your participation in a PAC is completely voluntary. The Federal Election Campaign Act stipulates that employees must be informed that they can refuse to contribute to a PAC fund, without reprisal. If you or any employee feels coerced into contributing to a cause or candidate in connection with a PAC, you should file a complaint. A full investigation will follow.
No matter who endorses a political committee or fund, you are free to make up your own mind about making a contribution, and about how you will vote. Our company complies with all national, state, and local laws regulating its participation in political affairs, including political contributions, and will never pressure any employee to make political contributions to individual campaigns, political parties, or PACs.
Another way business mixes with politics is through lobbying, or the practice of communicating with elected officials in order to influence legislation. Lobbying is strictly regulated and BBNC must meet all legal requirements for registering and reporting lobbying activities. For this reason, all lobbying activities should be centrally coordinated. Only members of the Executive Team may meet with government officials or employees to communicate BBNC’s position on a particular issue.
Our Commitment, Your Choice
BBNC cannot and will not require employees to support a particular political candidate, party or issue, nor can it discriminate against employees for their political views or activities. While the company encourages you as an individual to participate actively in political and civic affairs outside of the office, it will never attempt to influence your opinion about an issue. That is strictly a matter of personal choice.
My co-worker belongs to an environmental awareness club. Around Election Day she leaves flyers in the break room that list the candidates endorsed by her club. She claims it’s simply educational information. Some other co-workers said they were glad to get the information, but it bothers me. What should I do?
Even though your co-worker defines the flyers as “education,” they don’t belong in the office break room. She may not be aware that company policies don’t allow political information to be posted or distributed on company property, including parking lots or bulletin boards. If you have explained this to her and she persists, speak to your Supervisor or Human Resources representative.
I found out that several of my co-workers aren’t registered to vote. With Election Day approaching, I’d like to arrange for voter registration in our building lobby. Would that be allowed?
Great idea! Suggest it to your supervisor or Human Resources representative. All employees who are U.S. citizens are encouraged to participate in elections, and registering to vote is the first step in the process.
My supervisor asked me for a contribution to support a political candidate that he endorses. Is that appropriate?
No. Even if your supervisor is not pressuring you, the request is inappropriate and coercive.
I’m very active in my neighborhood association and I’ve been asked to run for local office. I like being active in politics, but is running for office a potential conflict of interest?
Congratulations on being asked to represent your community. In general, if the elected position does not interfere with your job responsibilities, you can proceed. This may not be true if your position in the company is such that the public will find it difficult to separate your personal views from those of the company (for example, if you often speak on behalf of the company.) Talk to your supervisor about the time commitments and the level of public exposure required, to be sure there wouldn’t be any conflicts. In addition, if any of your campaign material lists your work experience, let Human Resources review it before it’s distributed.
I want to send a letter to my Senator, via our company network, expressing my opinion about a legislative issue. Can I do this?
It’s fine to express your opinion, but not via company e-mail. Even if you make it clear that you are expressing your personal opinion, the media or other persons outside our company might make it seem like your letter was expressing BBNC’s opinion. Remember, our mail system and all correspondence sent over it are BBNC property. By all means, send the letter, but use your personal e-mail or stationery.