The Perfect Enemy | Should political conversations be avoided in the workplace?
December 6, 2022

Should political conversations be avoided in the workplace?

Should political conversations be avoided in the workplace?  USA TODAY

Read Time:4 Minute

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr. tackles your human resources questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society and author of “Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval.”

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: Leading up to the recent election, a co-worker and I had a friendly rivalry as we supported opposing candidates. It didn’t bother me, but it annoyed some of our other co-workers. Now that it is over, some of them have gloated and chided him over his candidate losing. This has created some tension in the office. Is politics just one of those topics best avoided at work? Is there a way we can turn down some of the office tension?” – Lucy

Answer: Though it may be difficult – if not impossible – to completely avoid the topic of politics at work, you can take several measures to effectively turn the tension down. Even if your employer does not have a policy or protocol to address it, you could speak up and share with your co-workers how differences of opinion are inherent to our perspective. Not agreeing with someone’s opinion doesn’t mean we can’t be respectful. Conversely, taking time to understand someone else’s point of view doesn’t necessarily mean we abandon our own.

With your peers as witnesses to the friendly rivalry between you and your co-worker, you can lead the narrative in a positive direction. The best thing you can do is to demonstrate how you can still work together while respecting one another. Depending on the situation, this may include: shaking your co-worker’s hand on agreeing to disagree, bringing them coffee, having a laugh over something unrelated, having lunch together, or collaborating on a project.

See it from your co-worker’s point of view. How would you feel had your candidate lost? Show some compassion and empathy. Give them space and time to grieve. Your co-workers on both sides may simply need some time to cool off. Think of ways to redirect these conversations to another current topic that might spark a new, less contentious discussion.

Whether it’s sports, religion, politics, or some other subject, there is always a risk someone will cross the line of being disrespectful both in and outside of work. It’s sportsmanship and civility that restores our human connections. Ultimately, healthy, productive workplaces require a degree of trust and must be free from harassment, discrimination, bullying and violence. Some laws provide these protections. If you believe this has gone too far, ask your manager or Human Resources to help you cut the tension. 

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I had COVID-19 four months ago but still struggle with post-COVID-19 symptoms of fatigue and brain fog that affect my work performance. My doctor has not been able to offer much in the way of treatment. I am afraid my job may be jeopardized if I continue to struggle at work. Is there anything I can do to explain my situation to my employer and protect my position? – Keegan

I’m sorry to hear you have been struggling with post-COVID-19 symptoms.

Contact your manager and HR department to share your concerns about how your symptoms affect your work performance. Depending on your specific situation, you may be eligible for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans Disability Act or eligible to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act.

First, let’s discuss ADA. To be protected under the ADA, you must work for a covered employer (with at least 15 or more employees) and have a physical or mental disability that impacts a significant life activity. Post-COVID-19 symptoms aren’t necessarily considered a disability, so your employer can do an individualized assessment to see if your symptoms affect a major life activity. If you have a disability, your employer is obligated to provide you with reasonable accommodation unless it would cause undue hardship. Some examples of reasonable accommodation could be a modified work schedule, job restructuring, remote work, etc.

Second, is leave under the medical leave act. To be protected under the medical leave act, you must work for a covered employer (employs at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius), for at least 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours in a 12-month period. Additionally, you must have a serious health condition. A serious health condition is an illness or injury that either involves inpatient care or continued treatment from a doctor. You may be protected under the medical leave act if you meet those conditions. Should you need time off work due to your serious health condition, the medical leave act provides job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks which can be taken continuously or intermittently, depending on the circumstances.

The medical leave act and the ADA allow your employer to obtain further information from your doctor to assess your situation. Be sure to work with your employer and provide the information they need to assess your situation fully.

And, if you don’t qualify for the ADA or medical leave act, check with your HR department on any policies or practices that may apply to you. 

I hope you feel better soon and get the support you need from your employer.