In case there was any doubt the political season is well upon us, an increasing number of companies have been letting their employees know that if the owners had their way, everyone would vote for the candidates backed by the owner. Westgate Resorts, ASG Software Solutions and the Koch brothers of Georgia Pacific have all let their employees know that they are supporting the Republican slate, both nationally and locally. While this may be a savvy campaign strategy started by Mitt Romney in a virtual town hall meeting with the National Federation of Independent Businesses last June, the tone of the letters are seen as threatening by some. The letters have been carefully crafted to walk the thin line between a threat about the future of the company and a reflection of what the authors perceive the economic impact on business will be if the Democrats prevail. All of these letters have people wondering just how much political talk can be controlled by an employer, and just what can be said in the workplace.
The federal laws do not include political views or political affiliation in the laundry list of protected classes, but many states have taken such steps. The real risk of such public endorsement (and perceived veiled threats) in the workplace is the inherent tension and negative atmosphere that results. It is tougher to keep your employees from discussing politics (and the resulting heated discussions), if the Company president has already made a very public statement regarding his/her political views. The statements that imply the Company will close, reduce the workforce, or otherwise be impacted if the desired political party is not elected can create a lot of fear for the employees. If your employees are concerned about their jobs, you may lose some top talent. They aren’t going to want to stick around a Company that may or may not be in existence in a year. The bigger impact, though, can be on employee morale.
Greg Duff founded and chairs Foster Garvey’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.