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What Bosses Need to Know to Avoid a Long Island Discrimination Lawsuit

The political season is heating up. As the Republicans attempt to figure out who will challenge President Barack Obama for his position, the rhetoric will be flowing big time throughout the rest of the year.

But what happens when office talk becomes political talk? Workers’ opinions can fly and they may dismiss some candidates perhaps based on their race, gender or age. That can lead to hurt feelings and a possible discrimination lawsuit in Long Island.
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So, what should be done? For employers, they must create well-worded policies that lay out the proper workplace behavior without trouncing First Amendment rights of their workers. On the flip side, workers who feel words of discrimination are being flung around the office must report this to their supervisors in order to fix the behavior.

The Associated Press recently wrote an article on the topic and spoke with some experts who advise companies to take steps to ensure that their workers are able to voice their opinions in the office, but at the same time make sure other employees don’t feel uncomfortable in a hostile environment.

Politics, along with religion, may be the most controversial topics people can discuss in our country. Especially in 2012, where Congress is divided and all sides seem opposed to each other, this is sure to be a big water-cooler conversation piece.

The article provides a few suggestions for this situation:

Don’t be overbearing
The key for a boss is not to make the work environment oppressed or overbearing. If the staff typically is hard-working, but gets sidetracked, go easy, unless there is an upcoming deadline for a project. Or, politely suggest they continue their conversation later. Allowing workers to talk during work is a morale builder and shutting it down can end up hurting productivity.

Political talk
The First Amendment doesn’t allow employees at a small business to say whatever they want, but some states do allow employees to talk about politics. But these discussions can be problematic when workers get heated.

As mentioned earlier, when people talk about a particular candidate and disparage that candidate based on their race, gender or age, an employee may deem the workplace a hostile environment, which could lead to a discrimination lawsuit in New York.

The first step should be to approach the staffer who made the comments and tell him or her they were inappropriate, whether there was an issue raised by others or not. Expressing opinions is one thing, but demeaning someone is a different thing altogether. As most people know, these conversations can turn to arguments quickly. This can also be problematic.

Employees should be careful using valuable work time to get into these arguments or discussions. This can give companies legitimate reasons to fire or punish someone, even if the conversation started at break or lunch time. If it takes up work time or if company equipment is used to do it, such as e-mail, this can get the worker in trouble.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment law counsel in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or contact us through the website.

More Blog Entries:

Unemployment Discrimination in New York a Hot Topic in Bad Economy: October 21, 2011
Texas Roadhouse Sued By Feds For Alleged Age Discrimination on Long Island, Nationwide: October 12, 1011
Additional Resources:

Too much office chatter? What an owner can do, by Joyce M. Rosenberg, Associated Press