How To Be More Politically Active…Without Pissing Off Your Boss
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How To Be More Politically Active…Without Pissing Off Your Boss

With election season kicking off, talking politics at work can quickly become the new normal. But, when it comes to fighting for your rights, how do you navigate the murky waters of what is acceptable, not-quite acceptable, and downright, “don’t-even-try-it,” at work?

To find out how we can all be politically active without pissing off our bosses (it’s impossible!) we asked Dannie Fountain. She’s a self-described “people manager” with a Masters in human resources. Here’s what she advises all employees keep in mind when engaging with politics in the office and on social media.

Keep in mind the following talking politics at work—and online

How should we approach talking politics at work? What’s good and bad?

Understand that corporate entities have responsibilities when it comes to political activities that are different than the responsibilities that we as individual human beings have.

When you take a political action, however that works for you, if you’re doing it on company time, even if it’s on your personal device, that could come back on the company because of the way those roles work. When you’re making personal political comments from your Facebook on your personal phone, if it’s during work hours, someone could try and make the argument that the company was somehow involved.

OK. So, make note that if you’re doing it during company hours, even if it’s on your personal account, you’d still get in trouble.

We all know that there are explicit and implicit ways that employees feel segregated at work. Depending on the political climate of your company, those implicit relationships could be impacted in the workplace, even though what you’re saying is totally personal and not related to work because we’re all human and we all have biases.

So if someone made some political comments that maybe aren’t part of the cultural norm at the company or maybe they’re not widely shared by coworkers, it could potentially negatively affect the relationships between coworkers?

A lot of companies try very hard to create environments where that isn’t the case. We do unconscious bias trainings. We do all of those things to point out, hey, all of our employees are different. We shouldn’t hold that against one another. We are all human, and it still happens.

Can we talk a little bit about what sort of protections are in place for employees to express themselves politically so as to draw a baseline of what’s generally acceptable?

“I have the right to share my opinion … to bring that whole self to work until it starts to impact work performance.”

Let’s use that adage of, “My right to punch you in the face ends when your nose begins.” Your nose is the furthest thing sticking out from your face, usually. Basically, I have the right to share my opinion, to be my truest self, to bring that whole self to work—until it starts to impact work performance, makes coworkers unnecessarily uncomfortable, makes the work climate hostile, or impact business function, et cetera.

For example, you could casually tell a coworker, “Hey, I’m participating in a rally this weekend.” But, the second that you ask them to join you when you’re on company property, technically, you’re lobbying at work.

You have to be really conscientious and mindful of the fact that you are entitled to your views, but especially, when it comes to political views, things should be worded as an expression of what you’re doing rather than an invitation to join. The language that you use should be, I’m participating in this thing, it exists, not, “I’m participating in this thing, let’s all go.”

Let’s say you mention the company that you work for in your bio, does that automatically put you in a riskier position?

Oh, definitely. For example, my Instagram account, the tagline in my bio or whatever is speaker, Googler, strategist. Before you even scroll my profile, you know that I’m a Googler, and that changes the lens by which you look at my content.

What about memes? They can be intended as jokes, but also be offensive to some people.

I think meme culture is so complicated because, a lot of times, we share memes because they’re hilarious, but we forget that every single meme has an origin story. Every single meme was originally this cultural piece of art that was pulled from something that had cultural or pop culture relevance. That creates a common understanding for which content associated with that meme is viewed.

If you’re sharing any memes that could be even 5 percent offensive or politically charged or in any way divisive, I would recommend checking in to the meme origin story.

What about if employees want to participate in a rally or in a protest? Is that something they should be at all concerned about in terms of it potentially impacting their work and employment?

This comes back to the fact that corporate laws are stricter than individual laws when it comes to what political action you can take. For example, say my primary residence is in Boston, and I’m in New York City for a work trip. One night, there’s a political rally that I want to go to. It is after hours. I am on my personal time. One could safely assume that I’m going to expense the Uber to and from the event, but my employer is paying for the hotel that I’m staying in. My employer paid for my plane ticket from Boston to New York. That’s dangerous.

When you’re wanting to participate in these things, I would strongly encourage that very classic church and state division. So don’t do it on work trips, or if your transport is covered. For example, a lot of people that work at Lyft or that work at startups get given a credit for Lyft or Uber, whatever. Don’t use that credit on your way home because, now, you’ve just tied political activity back to the company unintentionally.

What about organizing for a political event or cause?

The organizing piece needs to be done outside of work. You should make sure that your shuttles don’t pick up from the office. Maybe they pick up from the McDonald’s next door if you’re carpooling. Coordinating all that should not be done with your corporate email. It should be done in your personal accounts.

“To be frank, it depends on the culture of the company.”

To be frank, it depends on the culture of the company. The division between corporate political law, and individual political law exists primarily for campaign finance reasons.  Some companies also have stricter policies when it relates to organizing as well. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

What if an employee wants to look more into detail into a company’s policies? Do you go to HR? Do you ask your boss? What do you ask for?

Many companies have an intranet, which would be a place I would look to see the company policy on lobbying and political action. If not, I would check with HR or even your legal team because your legal and policy team might have these because they’re not just employees rule and regulations. They have pieces of corporate government tied in.

If you want a common understanding outside of what your company requires, you can just Google “corporate lobbying and campaign action laws” because that’ll give you a baseline of what corporation can and cannot do.

What about donating to certain causes or political parties? Is that ever something that potentially you can get an employee in trouble with their work?

There are times that you can get in trouble for that. We have our credit cards saved. You wouldn’t want to accidentally make that donation on your corporate credit card. Make sure it is for sure on your personal funds, and don’t make that donation on a corporate device or during work hours.

Again, you don’t want to rally people at the office. There’s a difference between rallying to buy a Powerball ticket and chipping in and rallying to give to an organization that has political ties. As far as actually getting in trouble, assuming you’ve done it off work hours with your personal funds, that’s your choice.

With the campaign season coming up, people will be sharing photos of candidates, causes they support, or issues that they care about online. What are maybe some good and bad ways to go about that?

Think about approaching topics through an intellectual rather than passionate response/take. You can never get in trouble for stating a fact. Logic is a very sassy way to put it. If your politically active posts are 100 percent factually accurate and devoid of emotion, that’s a very safe and good way to go about it.

Are you venturing into dangerous territory when you post what could be interpreted as a political rant on, say, Facebook, Twitter or your Instagram stories?

It’s very dangerous territory. If I was in the mood to go on a rant, however, I would do it on Facebook, and I would just hide all of my coworkers that I’m Facebook friends with from the post. I would not do that on Instagram because, for instance, my Instagram is very public.

Okay, so be mindful of your privacy setting. And, if possible, divide your followers into lists and filter your content through that.

Yup, if you’ve divided your Facebook audience into lists, it’s really easy to say, “Show to all friends except these ones.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.