How to navigate discussions about politics in the workplace

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Employees care deeply about abortion, gun control, immigration, crime, the homeless situation in Anchorage, climate change and other issues that affect their freedom, wallets and quality of life. As a result, even seemingly innocuous comments concerning news events can escalate into bitter, emotionally charged workplace arguments that alienate coworkers and customers, damage relationships, and negatively affect morale.

Here are some facts:

More than half — 52% — of U.S. employees report that sharing their political opinions with coworkers can harm working relationships and negatively affect team productivity.

Two of every five employees — 40% — report feeling negatively toward their boss or coworkers after discussing political views.

One of every five — 20% — employees report their coworkers treat them poorly because of their political views. Research outlined in “Fear and Loathing across Party Lines” documents that we’ve become polarized as a nation, split into the “in group” — you think like me — and the “out group,” with those in the “in group” viewing hostile treatment toward those who oppose their beliefs acceptable.

One in five employees would consider leaving a workplace in which the majority of their coworkers hold different political views.

What do we as employees and employers need to do?


Some suggest we ban all political discussions in the workplace.

Good luck with that. We don’t shut off our emotions or brains when entering the workplace.

Instead, we need to up our game. Although others in our workplace hold different views, we can respectfully talk with and not at each other. We can’t remain a country in which we avoid differences of opinions because we don’t remember how to exchange ideas without attacking other’s views and each other as people.

Employers need to know the law and can set guardrails.

The National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, gives private sector employees the right to distribute information to support political candidates or viewpoints at work that directly connect to work-related topics such as minimum wage, equal pay, or paid leave. An employee who says, “I’m in favor of this candidate because s/he’ll pass laws to raise wages” has protection for making that statement. The NLRA doesn’t protect employees who cross the line with careless comments regarding sex, race or religion that are discriminatory, harassing or incite violence.

Employers need to protect their employees from political discussions that create a hostile or discriminatory work environment, such as ones that veer into issues of race, national origin, or gender. When an employer learns one of their employees perceives a heated discussion as discriminatory or hostile toward a legally protected group, they need to investigate the situation and, if warranted, issue a reprimand to the harassing employee.

Proactive employer actions

Employers can set limits for the length and volume of discussions they will and will not allow in the workplace and on work time. Employers need to be cautious about implementing “civility” rules, as the National Labor Relations Board has regularly ruled that protected discussions by their very nature may be inflammatory. Instead, they can address problems specifically, such as, “I realize you’re both passionate about your candidates, however, this distracts each of you from customer calls, forcing your coworkers to pick up the slack. Please get back to work.”

Employers can address political discussions that cross the line into hostile attacks and polarized verbal duels in the same way they tackle other forms of inappropriate behavior.

Employers can provide training that teaches employees how to maintain respect and civility when engaged in conflict-laden discussions. They can remind employees of the 13 categories legally protected against discrimination and harassment in Anchorage — race, age, color, sex, religion, marital status or changes in marital status, pregnancy, disability whether mental or physical, national origin, sexual orientation. and gender identity.

Will challenging political discussions affect your workplace? Yes, and they probably already have.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Beating the Workplace Bully" and “Solutions,” and Submit questions at or follow her on, or @lynnecurry10 on X/Twitter.