Earlier this week, the software company Basecamp announced a new policy that bans political or societal discussions on its internal communications systems. This move follows a similar policy adopted last year by Coinbase, a cryptocurrency company. The CEO of Basecamp justified the new policy by stating that differences in opinions by employees had become uncivil and posed a major distraction for the workplace.
Given the continuing political polarization of Americans, should employers consider similar bans to help maintain collegial work relationships? From a legal perspective, there are few limits on regulating this type of speech in the workplace. First Amendment rights do not apply to policies adopted by private sector employers. If an employer decides to implement a ban on political speech in the workplace, it should clearly state that the policy does not apply to discussion of terms and conditions of employment protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. The employer should also consistently enforce the policy in order to avoid claims that banned discussions are linked to an employee’s race, gender, or other protected classification.
Beyond these legal concerns, employers should also consider the impact on employee morale of policies restricting workplace speech. Some may feel that by banning political or societal speech in the workplace, the employer is actually taking a position against addressing what employees view as societal injustices. Before implementing changes to their workplace speech policies, employers may want to obtain employees’ input in order to avoid any unexpected backlash.