The papers are currently full of stories charting the rise of UKIP, and their success in the recent Local Council and European Parliament elections.
Whatever your own politics, it is clear that there is an increasing swell of support for a party that, in some people’s eyes, promotes a political agenda that might be considered more extreme than that of the three other main parties.
Politics have been the demise of many a dinner party, as political opinions can sometimes be expressed with almost religious fervour. What happens when those opinions spill into the workplace? How can employers avoid tensions arising between co-workers?
- Be aware that a political belief may be considered as an equivalent to a religious belief, and thus attract protection against detriment (i.e. discrimination) by virtue of the Equality Act 2010 (replacing the previous provisions of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003). The law is not clear on this point, and it is probably the case that, at present, only belief in a political philosophy (e.g. Socialism/Marxism) would qualify for protection from discrimination rather than belief in a political party as such. However, respect the fact that employees are entitled to hold their beliefs and express them appropriately.
- There is specific protection against dismissal on the grounds of political opinion or affiliation. No qualifying period is required to bring a claim for unfair dismissal on this ground (i.e. the employee will not need to have two years’ service).
- Deal with any incidents between co-workers quickly and sensitively. Recognise that people have a right to hold particular political beliefs, but make it clear (through appropriate Equality Policies in the Handbook and/or training) that care should be exercised when expressing those beliefs, so as not to offend other employees (e.g. on the grounds of their race or sexual orientation). Try to resolve matters informally if possible. However, if the line is crossed, take appropriate disciplinary action.
- Check your Equality Policy to make sure that employees understand that they must treat all employees with respect, and that negative treatment on any of the “protected grounds” (which includes race, religion and sexual orientation) is unacceptable and will be subject to disciplinary action as appropriate. Repeatedly expressing political beliefs to the detriment of a “protected” party may lead to grievances or claims such as harassment from the affected individual.
- Ensure that you have an up-to-date Social Media Policy in place and that this is communicated to employees. In particular, if employees express extreme political views on social media, they must ensure that there is no identifiable link to your organisation and that they are clearly speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of their employer.
If you are an employer and need help navigating any of the tricky issues outlined, please get in touch with myself (Joanne Perry) or a member of our employment law team in St Albans and London. You can call us anytime on 01727 832830 or 020 7478 9010.