5 Ways to Limit Political Arguments at Work

By Michael J. Martin | April 5, 2024 | 3 min read
Fighting at work

True or false: your employer is required to allow freedom of expression and freedom of speech, so that you may promote the political candidate or ideology of your choice in the workplace.


When you have an employee with strong (and potentially disruptive) political beliefs, they’ll often defend bringing politics into the workplace by saying “I’m just expressing myself” or “I’m exercising my freedom of speech.” However, while the government of the U.S. guarantees these rights to its citizens, private companies are not bound by freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

Companies have the right to decide how much political discourse can enter the workplace; and sometimes that means that employees will have to leave their politics at the door when they come to work.

Preventing disruptions during an election year

Election years, particularly presidential election years, can be difficult. People may feel strongly about certain issues or candidates, and that can lead to disputes at work. At best, these disputes can cause distractions and strain relationships. At worst, they can escalate into fights or violence.

If you, as a private employer, want to limit disruptions during an election year, there are some best practices that will make doing so easier.

  1. Develop clear policies ahead of time: Take time to plan your policies regarding political discourse at work before disputes happen. Will you allow political signage or apparel in the workplace? If you do, how much are you willing to tolerate? Set clear parameters for what you are going to allow. For example, you might stipulate that political signs can be no bigger than a bumper sticker, and that apparel be in good taste and follow the company dress code.

  2. Consider not allowing any politics at work: If your employee population is like the population of the country, it is probably split down the middle with support for each political party. Rather than risking the alienation of half of your workforce, it may be best to avoid politics at work completely.

  3. If your company is political, be aware of those who don’t agree with you: Sometimes a company can’t avoid politics. Many companies take a political stance, or endorse candidates. If that’s the case in your workplace, understand that you may be alienating half your workers and part of your client population as well.

  4. Communicate your policies clearly: Make a statement about what you will and won’t allow. Ensure that your team knows exactly what your policies are, and where to find them so that they can refer to the policies as needed.

  5. Be consistent in enforcing policy: You have to be fair when it comes to enforcement, no matter what your personal politics are. You can’t come down on a MAGA hat and ignore a Biden button. Whatever your policy is, be uniform about enforcing it.

What about your extended enterprise?

Your employees aren’t the only people at your site. Partners, vendors, clients, and other visitors also go to your site, and they are all likely to have their own political opinions.

While you can’t control the behavior of non-employees, you can release your code of conduct to visitors and partners so they know what’s expected of them when they are on site, or meeting virtually with your team. This is a standard practice; one of our clients has a no cellphone policy on site; if you are seen using your phone on site, you agree that you can be removed from the property. By sending your code of conduct ahead of time, you can ensure that visitors to the site are aware of your policies.

Most people are happy to comply.

Political discourse is important, but not on work time

Getting out ahead of political arguments is important in the workplace, but even if your company has policies around how employees should conduct themselves in public and online, it’s important to know that you can’t stop people from political discussion on their own time.

Employees are likely to discuss the issues of the day at lunch or on breaks. However, you can remind them what acceptable discourse looks like: no shouting, no taunts, no threats, and so on. Workers might have heightened emotions, but they are still expected to act like grownups at work.

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