It’s unrealistic to ban the discussion of politics in the workplace and a healthy interest among staff can be positive. However employers should be alert to heightened feelings and an increased risk of complaints should discussions get out of hand. Employers are entitled to stop political campaigning during working hours to avoid disruption and upset to colleagues and/or customers.
Appropriate standards of dress are enforceable and a dress code policy should include clothing that displays political slogans. This is more important for employees who work in public-facing roles to avoid the impression that a particular political view is endorsed by a company.
Some employees may argue that not being allowed to display a political symbol is discrimination however claims of this under the Equality Act are hard to win due to a stringent 5 stage test, as set out in Grainger plc v Nicholson.
Since the Brexit vote we have seen an increase in harassment claims, particularly from Eastern European workers, so employers need to be alert. Political in the workplace can lead to complaints of racial harassment and, if complaints to arise, employers should follow grievance policies and take appropriate action.
When it comes to political activity outside of the workplace this is harder to control. If political activity is taking place during working hours and/or an employee’s actions have a direct impact on their employment e.g. bringing the employer into disrepute, then action can be taken. Likewise if an employee is caught doing non-work activities or using work equipment for party-political business e.g. using a printer to churn out hundreds of election leaflets then disciplinary action can be taken.
An employee may argue that their right to ‘freedom of expression’ is being impinged, however if you strike a reasonable balance then you are unlikely to be breaching any human rights laws. If you are concerned then you could implement a political activity policy.