Talking Politics at Work

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

We're all familiar with the age-old archetype of the nagging mom who chides, "No politics at the dinner table!" But what about in the workplace? It seems now more than ever people are chatting about the presidential campaigns. It's such an easy topic for disagreement, and I imagine it can lead to some pretty heated arguments around the water cooler. I have a friend who says she doesn't express her political opinion at meetings because she voted differently than everyone else in the office. Another friend was hit up for a donation for a candidate he doesn't support, and when he declined, it created a whole lot of unwanted awkwardness around his coworkers. Ask Amy columnist Amy Dickinson joins us today to give us savvy tips about how to discuss politics in a workplace environment. Do you chat about politics at work? Tell us your horror stories, and success stories.

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I have a problem with my family talking politics ALL of the time. We do not agree politically and therefore, they are always trying to talk me to their side. We are getting ready to go to the beach for a week. I guess I will be taking a lot of walks. Thanks for listening....

Sent by Liz Tannehill | 2:40 PM | 4-24-2008

I find it very unnerving to receive emails from my superiors ridiculing the party I vote for, the candidates who are running for that party's nomination. It's not only rude, but I consider it to be a form of harassment, as in "if you don't think the way WE do, you aren't going to get far in this company". Comments?

Sent by Bronwyn | 2:43 PM | 4-24-2008

I'm a 54year old student,doing an externship in a medical office. I have a very liberal, unionist point of view, so I keep my mouth shut. I'm being trained with funding from the State& Feds(NAFTA), I lost my job after 30 years, and Obama is right there still bitter, angry workers out there,(myself). I'm just not racist, but I know a lot of folks that are,(I worked with them) his comment wasn't elitist,but truthful. There are million of people out there,just like Obama said they just don't talk to the media. Can you tell, I'm and Obama voter in a Republican county in Indiana. That's a topic for "Talk of the Nation", there are million of us just in Indiana alone.

Sent by Christine Fischer | 2:46 PM | 4-24-2008

I worked for an advertising agency during an election cycle. The agency took on a very right wing candidate for governor. One of the owners was constantly pushing this candidate and pressuring the employees to vote for this person. It was very uncomfortable and concerning. At one point I was asked point blank by this owner who I was going to vote for. I feared for my job yet was very insulted at what was going on. It is the total opposite of my politics and felt intimidated.

Sent by Lucille | 2:47 PM | 4-24-2008

Oddly enough, in a Democratic campaign office, I have to keep talk of the Presidential race to a minimum. I have volunteers with strong opinions about Senators Clinton and Obama, and even the occasional McCain supporter. (why they think in a liberal Democrat's campaign office that would be well-received is beyond me), but since I am in North Carolina, the Presidential primary is very much on everyone's mind.

Some of the rhetoric about both Obama and Clinton can be a little scary, and as the campaign manager on a local race, I need to make sure no volunteers are made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome.

Sometimes it is really difficult.

Sent by Meryl | 2:49 PM | 4-24-2008

I was once the horrified recipient of the blatantly racist e-mail that circulated about Arab store clerks celebrating on the morning of 9/11 (the rest of the e-mail talks about how the Budweiser delivery man promptly stopped delivering there, word got around, they went out of business, etc). Swallowing the tirade I wanted to unleash on my ignorant co-worker, I simply replied to the forward with the link to the Snopes page that dubunked the story. My coworker hasn't sent me a forward since.

I'm sorry to say that I was much less restrained when a different coworker asked me if I was willing to take the risk that Barack Obama is "an under-cover Muslim."

Sent by LB | 2:51 PM | 4-24-2008

Hi TOTN,
We have a client that is a conservative Christian. He often sends us emails promoting "his" candidate and trashing the others. Most of the "trashing" is very crazy (ie. Obama being Muslim and taking over the country). Like I said he is a client, is there a polite way of asking him to knock it off or is it best left to the delete button?

Sent by Diane | 2:53 PM | 4-24-2008

If you are really concerned about getting emails at your work address regarding politics, just tell the person to not email you there and have them email you at home. I find myself in many situations in the office where I work -- very conservative environment and I am far from that -- where I may have to tell someone to send it to my personal address and leave it out of my work mailbox.

Grow some cajones.

Sent by Ryan C | 2:55 PM | 4-24-2008

I had an encounter with a tradesperson who came to our house on a service call to fix our pump. He refused to service our pump because he disagreed with the political posters in the back of my father's car, which was parked in our driveway. The posters were anti-war in nature, and the individual claimed he could not park his car next to ours out of patriotic principles. Then he followed up with a letter accusing us of sedition and referring to his background in the marines and as a police officer.

Sent by Kathy Lowney | 2:58 PM | 4-24-2008

How can a newspaper declare support for a candidate (especially after I hear that newspaper employees can't have a sign in their own yard)?

Sent by Mark Kenseth | 3:00 PM | 4-24-2008

Alas, workers have few rights. In most cases, your boss can fire you if he or she doesn't agree with your political views. You should all read the column I wrote for MSBNC.com on Politics in the Workplace. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22900670/

Sent by Eve Tahmincioglu (aka CareerDiva.net) | 3:01 PM | 4-24-2008

I disagree, I think talking politics is acceptable. Yes, you need to be "grown up" enough to separate your job from your opinion, but nobody has a right to not be offended. Sorry, that is the price for the 1st amendment. You don't have to agree with my political leaning, but I don't have to agree with yours. A boss sends out an email supporting a candidate you don't like, ignore it. They can't punish you for not sharing their opinion or a legal suit will be pending, and they are aware of this. This was a ridiculous piece.

For example, I recently went to the hospital (kidney stones). The guy who was in charge of my pain killers was a staunch supporter of Huckabee. I am a staunch supporter of Obama. Did that keep the two of us from talking? No. Did he purposely keep me in pain by doing nothing? No. We were both sensible enough to know the difference between what needed to be done and our opinions.

Sent by Bryan | 3:11 PM | 4-24-2008

Sorry Brian, you have no legal rights if that boss fires you..unless you are a state, federal, or union employee. That's just the way it is. Labor legal advocates have confirmed this -- You can be fired for expressing your political beliefs.

Sent by Eve Tahmincioglu (aka CareerDiva.net) | 3:22 PM | 4-24-2008

Amy Dickinson denounced even the act of wearing a political button on one's jacket in the workplace. In this, she defends our modern American value of the Right to Feel Completely Comfortable. I am not advocating harassment, but our unwillingness to be made the slightest bit uneasy, and our condemnation of buttons, emails, and comments, presents a great danger. Paulo Friere warned us, "Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." I applaud the woman who wears the button on her jacket.

Sent by Christine Anastasia Mason, Educational Sign Language Interpreter | 3:40 PM | 4-24-2008

I took a year off work and had to figure out how to amuse myself for cheap. I scoured the newspapers for free things: outdoor concerts, gallery talks, flea markets, and festivals. I also invested in the Entertainment Coupon book - so many two for one offers that I didn't use all of them, and my mother bought one, too, so the coupons she didn't use I got and the ones I didn't use, she took. It took a little effort but I had the time for sure!

Sent by Stephanie in Santa Fe, NM | 3:52 PM | 4-24-2008

Thanks Eve, but do you honestly think that bosses will be shallow enough to fire anybody because they don't go to a political rally, and instead do work.

I guarantee if someone were to fire me because I don't support their candidate a legal suit will be pending. Winning, I admit, would be hard to do (you have to demonstrate that the employers did fire you because of political differences and not from ignoring your job). But it is still a legal suit.

The link you provided discusses the issues of campaigning during company time. I agree you shouldn't campaign; you should do your job. If the company has a policy of no buttons, then fine don't wear a button. If, however, you and your boss are talking over lunch and politics come up I don't see a problem with it.

"Generally private employers informally permit political discussion in the workplace as long as it doesn't become disruptive or otherwise interfere with company objectives, says Scott Brink, a labor attorney with Jeffery Mangels in Los Angeles."
page 2

If you are intimidated by disagreeing with your boss's political opinion, just don't continue the conversation. Sure the boss may continue to blather on, but what does it really matter. My old boss and I would disagree all the time on politics; he didn't fire me for it.

I take issue with anyone telling me what I can put on my car; it doesn't affect my job or anything. If you fire me for something as petty as that, I would pursue legal action again. The story of the woman being fired for a Kerry bumper sticker is particularly surprising. However, no follow-up to the story was provided on the link. I don't know if she filed a suit (and, if so, was it successful?), or if the boss was reprimanded, as it turns out (thanks internet) the woman was hired by the Kerry campaign. Even if she didn't get the Kerry job, the higher-ups were going to give her back her job and she was to receive an apology from the boss that fired her. click here for the link

My current boss sends me stuff all the time too, I don't view it as being told I have to go somewhere. I view it as an FYI. He usually doesn't even go himself. I go to some pertinent meetings/seminars and blow off others. As T.H. White once classified us (through the fictitious character Merlyn), we are more and more becoming Homo Impoliticus: The most impolitical animal in existence.

Sent by Bryan | 5:04 PM | 4-24-2008

Amy,
I was able to catch you on NPR today and I agree with most of what you said. Maybe I am mistaken but I think I heard you say something about?? coworkers using adjectives like "scrappy" and "aggressive" as offensive?? when describing Hillary Clinton. Why? Are they only offensive because women don't like being described that way? If those words were used to describe O'Bama or McCain would they also be offensive? If not then you are guilty of blatent sexism! Those words are not offensive and whether they are used to describe a man or a woman candidate is irrevelant. Normal Webster approved adjectives. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? We truly have become "the land of the offended"! If someone uses the "B" word or God forbid the "C" word to describe a female then I would understand women specifically and people in general being offended, but, "scrappy" and "aggressive"? Give me a break! I believe in general the discussion of politics and religion have no place at work, however, if you are an individual that would be sorely offended that your female political candidate was described with the words "scrappy" and "aggressive" you are too thin skinned to discuss much more than the weather anyway.

Sent by Mark A. McElravy | 5:23 PM | 4-24-2008

sorry the links in my above post seem to be broken. so here they are plain as day.

the link to the quote:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22900670/page/2/

the Kerry campaign incident:
http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0915-08.htm

Sent by Bryan | 5:33 PM | 4-24-2008

I would hope bosses would allow free speech and not reprimand or fire anyone for it. My point is there are no protections under the law for private company employees.
I think workers should stand up for their rights, but they should also know there may be ramifications for it.

Sent by Eve Tahmincioglu (aka CareerDiva.net) | 5:45 PM | 4-24-2008

I was incredibly turned off by the fact that your guest on this matter was incredibly condescending to your callers, particularly the airplane pilot and the woman with the Obama button. I suggest you find another guest on this matter next time.

Sent by Sarah | 5:53 PM | 4-24-2008

OMG, I cannot disagree enough with one of Amy's final comments on TOTN. She implied the workplace should be pure of campaign buttons. All well & good if you choose to work for a company that has such a policy - but if no one can advertise for a politician, then labels & names on clothes should removed as well. One of the problems with the U.S.A. is our priority of the workplace/commerce over humanity/self expression. To me, productivity is not more sacred than free speech. Social ability too often succumbs to compartmentalization (all we do at work is work). This is one more instance where it appears other cultures actually embrace the dialogue while we steer clear/have difficulty with simple discussion. But the real issue I have to her reply to the person who spoke of wearing a campaign pin as a quiet means of advocacy, is the backwards logic she gave about negative responses. It is the scornful, reproachful looks and commments that seem more inappropriate. Amy D.'s saying that the woman wearing the pin should expect -and is obligated to accept- harsh comments for her attire is very close to saying women who wear short skirts are "asking for it." Look, it's inappropriate to tell someone with a religious emblem around their neck that they are a fool to believe "that." Isn't it?

Sent by Emil Churchin, Anchorage, Alaska | 8:31 PM | 4-24-2008

Amy said that it is offensive for women in general when they hear man talk about MS Clinton in "male" terms, like forceful, powerhungry etc.

Why would Neil let her get away with such an intellectual underachieving statement? I guess we'll now never find out how one can make that association.
Please ther, be more vigilant

Sent by George Fuhrmann | 9:00 PM | 4-24-2008

I don't care who will be the winner,coz there are no differences for common people,either Clinton or Obama will be fine if he or she make people feel good with their life......

Sent by Jellar Zhang | 1:42 AM | 4-25-2008

I listened to this program after the live broadcast, and came to the conclusion that there are some awful thin-skinned people, and the same ones seem to be afraid to enjoy and indulge in freedom of speech. That's what Democrats are about, right. Why be offended if someone encourages you to support a candidate that find little or no interest in, why not take them head on and respectfully argue for your candidate. It seems very much ovr-the-top to recommend tattle tailing on someone that sends an unwanted email, those things are easy to ignore and delete. Why make a complaint to a human resourses department over a heated election issue. I am glad that this campaign is as heated as it has been; it is very reveling. We need to know all that we can about the next President of the United States, remember the last election, remember what we got? I for one wish that the

"Oh-so-polite" news media had asked a whole lot more hard and embarrassing questions of the current president, and I especially wish that the media had looked into his choices in the various cabinet positions -- but most of all I wish that we had known more about the vice president, who by the way, chose all of those cabinet members. He chose himself as the decider's decider.

Sent by Jim Bob | 3:15 AM | 4-25-2008

I listened intently to this segment yesterday while on a trip, and quite frankly, I was embarrassed (for lack of a better word) for more than one of the people on the show.

It seems to me that the workplace has become a forum for all kinds of things that aren't relevant to its purpose; that's why it is called the "workplace", after all.

Leave your religion and your politics out of the workplace and you might just fine that these problems may fade to the background to the point where you just might be able to work efficiently.

Shame, SHAME on the CEO that sent the disturbing political email that made the one caller uncomfortable. SHAME!

Sent by Reggie | 10:46 AM | 4-25-2008

I only speak to co-workers I particularly trust or have friendships with about politics. It is not my personality to try and convince them to "come to my side", but I do value their opinions, and ask them to be truthful so that I can weigh factors I might not have taken in to account.

I'm a Clinton supporter, and in my work place, there are more Obama supporters; being an Independent, though, I'm used to being the odd one out (at least, until the general election, when everyone wants to know who I'm voting for).

Sent by Drew | 12:00 PM | 4-25-2008

I have to do a speech on politics in the workplace for my college class. and i found that there is alot of emotions if you bring that subject in the work place, i had no idea how serrious it could be for some people. but straight out, it's probably to keep the convos out of the job so you don't create tension.

Sent by Nikki A. | 5:12 PM | 9-15-2008