With the vote happening next week in a what may be the most contentious presidential election in U.S. history, HR and Managers need to closely monitor the temperature to make sure conversation do not elevate to the point of bullying or creating a hostile work environment.  According to an article published by SHRM, “Sixty percent of HR professionals said their employees are more vocal about their political opinions than in elections past—meaning workers are more frequently engaging in political discussions or even arguments.” Although this period is temporary, the long-lasting impact on employee relationships may be long lasting or even permanent.

Consider this:

There are 3 employees in the purchasing department, which are housed right next to the two employees in the Shipping and Receiving department. The S&R employees (we’ll call them Bob and Sheila) are very busy in the morning and afternoon, but not as busy mid-day. Both Bob and Sheila back the same candidate, and much of their downtime is spent sharing campaign rhetoric, talking over their cubicles about how no person in their right mind would vote for the other candidate (whom they refer to “That #$@&*%!”). Although the Buyers have discussed among themselves that this makes them uncomfortable, they don’t want to confront Bob and Sheila as they are concerned the behavior will just escalate.

On the day before the election, the first Buyer arrives at work to find a cartoon sketch with the title of “Let’s keep “That #$@&*%!” out of office.” The drawing is a picture of a divided polling place where opposing parties are directed into a separate area where they step through the door to face a firing squad. When the other Buyers arrive, they agree that this is a bit scary and has gone too far. But instead of addressing Bob and Sheila, they decide as a team to ignore them, leave their work on their desks with notes, and avoid any direct contact until things quiet down.

When the manager arrives, and sees the cartoon, he has to decide what step to take next.

  1. Take down the cartoon and tell Bob and Sheila to knock it off, knowing that after the

election things will probably get back to normal.

  1. Make light of the situation so that everyone knows it is not serious and just an

attempt at election humor.

  1. Get HR involved and talk with everyone effected to determine the impact this has

had on the employees.

Remember, the law states that Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Does this rise to the level of a hostile work environment? Maybe, or maybe not.  The point is that employers do not know the impact these situations will have on employees unless they investigate.

An investigation does not need to be a long drawn out chaotic process. In fact, using investigations as a standard business process to determine what is happening in the workplace and taking action or changing processes and/or policies actually drives engagement. When employees know that everyone is held to a common set of rules and expectations, they feel respected and comfortable coming forward, before problems escalate. This allows for a simpler and more immediate resolution.

If you have any questions, or would like to chime in on how your company is working through this election period, I would love to hear your comments.