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Jonathan A. Segal
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I am pleased to share my latest blog for Entrepreneur on politics in the workplace.

For years, we have witnessed a stark partisan divide. Some families have rules — no politics at dinner.

For employers, it is neither practical nor desirable to prohibit all conversations in the workplace. Indeed, to do so is legally dangerous.

Political conversations that relate to terms and conditions of employment may be protected. One can easily see how many political issues have workplace implications, like the gender pay gap, LGBT rights, religious liberty, Obamacare, paid leave, unions, immigration, etc. I think you get the point.

Still, the political divide can create workplace divides that are unhealthy. So here are some guardrails for leaders to minimize the risk that the inevitable will turn into the incendiary:

1. Remember your role as a leader.

If you are a leader, you don’t forfeit your rights to have political views. But be thoughtful about how you express them. You don’t want to suggest those who disagree with you are idiots. Yes, politics is a diversity issue, and we cannot exclude from the talent pool those with divergent political views.

2. Know your audience.

Some people take differing political views very personally. Unfortunately, in my view, many in both political parties demonize the opposition — so they serve as bad role models for the rest of us.

Make sure, before you talk politics, that there is a good working relationship. I enjoy good political discourse and that includes respectful disagreement — but only with those with whom I have a strong underlying relationship.

3. Focus on the positive.

Yes, you read it right. Safer to talk about whom you support than to talk about whom you loathe.Stated otherwise, it is one thing to say support A. It is another to bash B.

4. Think public versus private.

With a close colleague, a one-on-one dialogue (not diatribe) may be fine. I would stay away from the hard-core political in group meetings or leadership communications.

5. Listen.

I don’t mean to sound condescending (that means talk down), but listen to those with different views. You may learn a lot about them in a way that helps you work better with them.

At the risk of delving into political waters, someone who is a strong libertarian may not like “big employer” any more than they like “big brother.” That does not mean you should abdicate your management rights. But it may inform how you exercise your influence with the employee.

6. Careful of discriminatory language.

The candidates differ in terms of their age, ethnicity, gender, race and religion (in alpha order), among other factors. Comments that focus on what are “protected factors” under the employment laws are deeply problematic.

“Too old.” “Too religious.” You got the point. Don’t go there.

7. Respond proactively if you become aware of potential problems.

I confess that I enjoy watching debates. And, I can appreciate knockout punches regardless of whether I like the person throwing one.

In a workplace, there is no room for knockout punches. If you see temperatures are rising, intervene. Consider: “While we may have very different political views, we have at least one thing in common — we want X. [X is your mission, a specific project, etc.] So let’s focus on that.”

If comments reasonably could be seen as biased, you all but must respond. When you are a leader, there is no such thing as a passive bystander when bias is concerned. So, if inherent in the criticisms of a candidate is the person’s age, ethnicity, etc., make clear it’s not okay. It’s not.

Enough. Everyone back to work.

About Jonathan A. Segal
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Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment Group. He is also the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute. The Duane Morris Institute provides training for human resource professionals, in-house counsel, and other leaders at client sites and by way of webinar on myriad employment, leadership labor, benefits and immigration topics. Jonathan has served intermittently as a consultant to the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years, providing training on employment issues to federal judges around the country. Jonathan also has provided training on harassment on behalf of the EEOC as well as providing training on diversity to members of the United States intelligence agencies. Jonathan is also frequently a featured speaker at national, state and local human resource, business and legal conferences, including conferences sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Business and Industry. Jonathan’s practice focuses on maximizing compliance and minimizing legal risk. Jonathan’s particular areas of emphasis include: equal employment opportunity in general and gender equality in particular: social media; wage and hour; performance management; talent acquisition; harassment prevention and correction; and non-competes and other ways to protect your business. You can find him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law .
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Jonathan A. Segal
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I am pleased to share my latest post for the SHRM blog.

We all know the importance of grassroots advocacy.  How we go about it may make the difference in whether our message is, in fact, heard.  Here are ten (10) keys to consider to maximize the value of your efforts:

1.                  Follow draft legislation

Of course, you should track bills in your jurisdiction.  Look to see where they are in the legislative process and the purported level of support.

But you also should be mindful of developments in other jurisdictions too, particularly neighboring jurisdictions.  While all politics is local, there are trends that we ignore at our peril.

2.                Evaluate bills – think critically

When evaluating a bill, consider not only the short‑term but also the long‑term impact.  While some bills may have laudable intent, there may be adverse consequences.

For example, mandated sick pay may sound appealing, at least at first blush. But it limits an employer’s ability to design a workplace-flexibility program that reflects the needs of its workforce and meets the needs of employers. One size does not fit all.

3.                  Know your representatives

Whether at the federal or state level, you need to know your representatives.  Visit them.  And, invite them to meet with you and others.

Of course, there will be times it will be hard for you to have direct contact with them.  Develop relationships with their staffers, too.  Relationships with them can be the key to success and, in most instances, staff are more accessible than your representative.

4.                  Build positive relationships

You don’t want to be seen as someone simply making an “ask.”  Make public policy a two‑way street.

Offer yourself, and your company, as a valuable resource for HR knowledge. Share with your representative’s staff research from SHRM (among other sources) as well as non-confidential information on your own organization to help inform their decisions.

This can be particularly helpful in the early stages with proposed legislation. At this point, the representative may have not staked out a view.

5.                  Get others involved

HR should not go it alone. Consider involving others in your organization, such as your CEO.  Also, look at external organizations, such as trade or professional associations, with which you can partner. Look both nationally and locally as well.

6.                  Legal considerations

Do not forget that whatever you say may be discoverable.  So, breathe deeply before responding to a bill that you think could threaten your survival.

Imagine a letter in which someone threatens to close down if a bill is enacted and then the bill is enacted and the employer shuts down. The letter could be the fodder for a legal claim.

One way to counter this is to make sure we discuss issues in a factual, measured terms. Some organizations often use the most bellicose terms to describe what will happen if a bill becomes law.

Stay above that fray and speak in direct, clear, and accurate terms. It gives your advocacy pitch more credibility.

7.                  Don’t forget yourself

Yes, there are personal considerations, too.  Check with your employer before taking any public position.

It is possible that your employer may not want you to support or oppose a bill for reasons related to an important client, customer, your organization’s brand or other relationship.

You won’t know if you don’t ask. If you don’t ask, you might not keep your job.

8.                  HR considerations

Assume your workforce will find out what you say.  Accordingly, make sure what you have said is defensible in terms of content and tone.

For example, I would avoid loss of profits when it comes to proposed minimum wage increases that are too high. I would talk about what the potential consequences on employees may be: there is only so much money for wages so a large increase in the minimum wage may result a contraction in the wage range, hurting our long-term employees.

9.                  Be practical

Pick your battles carefully. You may not want to oppose a bill that has almost unanimous bi-partisan support.

You also don’t want to give life to an issue that is dead. So be careful of over-reacting by giving a bill that is going nowhere publicity so that goes it somewhere.

10.              Meet with your representatives

Under this category, six (6) recommendations:

  • Treat your meeting or interaction with an elected official’s office like any other business meeting. Come prepared, bring your business cards and discuss the issues in a professional, business-like way. Make sure you follow-up from the meeting with the staffer.
  • Do not make any assumptions with regard to the representative’s position or even knowledge of the bill.  In fact, even if the representative’s name is on the bill, it does not necessarily follow that he or she supports it or even has read it.
  • Do not attack the motives of the representative.  That only invites defensiveness, at the very least.
  • Explain the bill, in succinct terms, so that the representative knows what you are talking about. Discuss how the bill will affect your organization, one of his/her constituents. Even if he or she has read it, it is not likely to be top‑of‑mind.
  • Explain your position.  In this regard, do not simply explain the pros or cons of the bill. State what you ultimately hope the legislator will do.
  • Don’t ask for the impossible. In some cases, it may not be politically possible for the representative to oppose (or support) a bill. However, it may be possible for him or her to remain silent.

 

Hope these suggestions are of some help. Okay, now let’s do it!

 

 

About Jonathan A. Segal
1065
author_image
Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment Group. He is also the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute. The Duane Morris Institute provides training for human resource professionals, in-house counsel, and other leaders at client sites and by way of webinar on myriad employment, leadership labor, benefits and immigration topics. Jonathan has served intermittently as a consultant to the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years, providing training on employment issues to federal judges around the country. Jonathan also has provided training on harassment on behalf of the EEOC as well as providing training on diversity to members of the United States intelligence agencies. Jonathan is also frequently a featured speaker at national, state and local human resource, business and legal conferences, including conferences sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Business and Industry. Jonathan’s practice focuses on maximizing compliance and minimizing legal risk. Jonathan’s particular areas of emphasis include: equal employment opportunity in general and gender equality in particular: social media; wage and hour; performance management; talent acquisition; harassment prevention and correction; and non-competes and other ways to protect your business. You can find him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law .