Turning down the volume on political talk at work

November 16, 2010, 4:10 PM UTC
Fortune

Don’t fret that a no-politics policy will violate anyone’s First Amendment rights: Private-sector employees have none.

Dear Annie: I hope you and your readers can give me some guidance, because I am at the end of my tether. I am the supervisor of a small department (eight people) that includes a couple of extremely vocal Tea Party activists, three or four “liberal” types, and one or two of us who are more middle-of-the-road.

Ordinarily, who cares, right? But this election seems to be bringing out the ugly in people, and the closer we get to actually voting, the worse it gets. Recently, I had to break up a fistfight — a fistfight! — in the break room between one of the right-wingers and another employee who apparently disagreed with him.

In my 26 years in business, I have never seen people so het up about politics, and it is distracting us from work. I wanted to call a meeting and ask everyone to please leave their political opinions in the parking lot, but a colleague told me this would violate employees’ First Amendment rights. Should I do it anyway? –Lone Star State

Dear Lone Star: Here’s something your well-meaning colleague evidently does not know: When people are at work, on property belonging to a private-sector employer, they have no First Amendment rights.

“The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech protects individuals only against government action, not against rules made by private entities,” says Elise Bloom, a partner and co-chair of the employment law practice at Proskauer Rose in New York City.

Read the full story here.