COMPANY CULTURE / JUL. 06, 2015
version 9, draft 9

Religion, Politics and Discrimination in the Workplace

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With the recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, we’ve all seen a lot of reaction, both positive and negative, in the days following. One thing that is certain is that everyone feels emotional and wants to express themselves. Some of this expression happens across the web and social media, but it also has trickled out into the workplace as some state politicians have called upon clerks to refuse giving out gay marriage licenses (should their moral compass disagree with such an action).

See also: What About Religion in the Workplace?

It’s a legitimate question, always and all the time, to ask whether discussions on religion and politics should be allowed in the workplace. It’s very hard to have a healthy discussion in today’s American culture on either of those topics without upsetting someone’s sensibilities; but is it appropriate to have even healthy conversations on such topics in the workplace?

The best route to take for a workplace is to have a policy in place regarding the discussion of such things, and to make sure all employees are aware of said policy. Knowledge will help an employee better understand how far is too far, and whether they’ve been discriminated against or if they have been discriminating against.

Here are a few things to consider regarding employees discussing potentially controversial issues in the workplace.

You represent your place of work at work

An employee represents the organization, and it’s important to remember that. As an employee it’s important to consider the policies, goals, and mission of the organization. Your views will not always represent an organization, and it’s important to make sure you don’t leave a bad taste in customers and clients’ mouths because of a false representation of the organization’s values and policies.

Taking part in religious and political discussions which can be considered controversial, discriminatory, or offensive can result in the loss of a job. If an employer feels an employee has stepped outside of their role at work, and insulted customers and clients, that employer has a right to remove said employee from the staff. Employers want employees that aren’t going to stir up trouble and turn away potential customers. If we’re talking about a private institution, keep in mind freedom of speech isn’t going to apply. If we’re talking about a government institution, it may be a matter of separation of church and state. At the end of the day, if an employee is causing more headaches than good reports almost any employer is going to look to terminate that position.

That’s why it’s important for employees to know their organization’s policies on such matters. Don’t get caught off guard, because of a lack of education on the organization’s view on such discussions.

You represent your place of work away from work, even on the web

It may sound a bit absurd, but you do represent your workplace away from work. We live in an age of fast feedback and social media. We’re reading news stories and commenting directly on them with our Facebook profiles, often times with our employer and job title listed directly under our name. Thus, we should always take into consideration the potential consequences of such actions.  

I’m not saying you can’t comment on a news story, but think twice and consider what you are about to say before posting. If your Facebook profile is setup to share your employer information, then you may want to rethink your comments or privacy settings on Facebook. You also may want to think twice about whom you share your Facebook profile with on the web. The same is true of all social media. Again, not saying you can’t share your opinion on the web, but employers are looking at your presence on the web. And not just them, others are doing it and sometimes they are calling or emailing employers when extreme views appear online. Recently a teacher was fired for her racially charged comments on Twitter in the context of the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Don’t forget that you share your social media information on your resume, so don’t put anything on it you wouldn’t want brought up in an interview.

One last thing to think about

At the end of the day, here’s one final thing to think about—it’s a job. Employees are hired for a specific set of tasks, and unless discussing political and religious topics is part of those responsibilities, it’s best to show up and do your work and go home. Don’t make the workplace a playground for religious and political debates, and potentially a hotbed of hostility.

See Also: How to Avoid Office Politics

How do you deal with such discussions at work? Do you know your company’s policy on  such matters? Share with us in the comment section below. 

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